Dutch Filmmaker Who Angered Muslims Shot Dead Tue Nov 2, 2004 08:04 AM ET
By Paul Gallagher and Anna Mudeva
AMSTERDAM ( Reuters ) - A controversial Dutch filmmaker who outraged Muslims by branding imams women-haters was stabbed and shot dead in Amsterdam Tuesday, shocking the Netherlands where the killing was denounced as an attack on free speech.
Theo van Gogh, a distant relative of 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, sparked controversy with newspaper articles, books and films dealing with Islam after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Van Gogh, 47, was attacked near a park close to the center of the Dutch capital. Police arrested a man at the scene after an exchange of gunfire in which the suspect wounded a police officer. The suspect was wounded in the leg.
The arrested man was a 26-year-old with dual Dutch and Moroccan citizenship, officials said. A letter had been found at the crime scene, police and prosecutors said in a news conference live on national radio.
The killing, which was widely condemned by Muslim groups, could raise the political temperature in the Netherlands where security for politicians was stepped up after the killing of anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn ahead of the May 2002 election in which his party captured second place.
Immigration, integration and Islam are burning issues in the Netherlands where outspoken parliamentarians such as Geert Wilders, an opponent of Turkish EU membership, have received death threats because of their views.
Van Gogh's most recent film about a Muslim woman forced into an arranged marriage who is abused by her husband and raped by her uncle was shown on Dutch television earlier this year. He received death threats after "Submission" was broadcast.
He made the film with Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee given Dutch citizenship after fleeing an arranged marriage 12 years ago. Hirsi Ali, who calls herself an ex-Muslim, has been under police protection since receiving death threats because of the film.
Several Muslim organizations in the Netherlands -- home to nearly one million Muslims or 5.5 percent of the population -- and mainstream Dutch newspapers attacked "Submission."
"He ( Van Gogh ) did receive death threats but he never took them quite seriously," a colleague at Van Gogh's film production company said, adding, "He was a controversial figure and a champion of free speech."
Van Gogh, who had been making a film about the killing of Fortuyn, made several films and also wrote a book called "Allah Knows Better" in which he attacks Islamic militancy and accuses imams, Muslim prayer leaders, of hating women.
The Dutch center-right government has pushed for greater integration of immigrants through language tests and citizenship classes and has sparked controversy with plans to repatriate up to 26,000 failed asylum seekers.
"It is really terrible. Of course we don't know yet the reasons, so I cannot give a formal reaction," Dutch European Affairs Minister Atzo Nicolai said. "It reminds everybody of what happened to Pim Fortuyn."
According to a recent survey, many Dutch are afraid of the rising number of Muslims in their country and feel threatened by Islamic militants. The Netherlands gave political backing to the U.S-led invasion of Iraq and has around 1,300 troops there.