AMSTERDAM, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Dutch authorities are investigating a radical Muslim group they suspect is linked to the man accused of killing a filmmaker critical of Islam and to last year’s Casablanca bombings.
Interior Minister Johan Remkes and Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner told parliament in a 60-page letter on Thursday that the 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan charged with murdering Theo van Gogh helped a radical group under observation since summer 2002.
They said the group of young Muslims of North African origin centred on Amsterdam often met at the home of Mohammed B. He was charged last week with killing Van Gogh, conspiracy to murder a politician and membership of a group with “terrorist” plans.
The ministers said members of the group had visited Pakistan, possibly for training for “jihad” or holy war, and had contact with a man suspected by Morocco of involvement in last year’s Casablanca bombings and arrested by Spain last October.
Some 45 people were killed in suicide bombings in the Moroccan city in May 2003.
On Wednesday, police arrested seven people suspected being part of a network of radical Muslims, but declined to say if they were linked with Van Gogh’s death or the Mohammed B. group.
Four police officers were wounded when two of the suspects threw a grenade at them in a raid in The Hague, prompting a 14-hour standoff that saw the building cordoned off all day.
Wednesday’s siege further ratcheted up tension in the Netherlands that has been spiralling out of control since Van Gogh was shot and stabbed as he cycled to work on Nov. 2.
The killing of Van Gogh, whose criticism of Islam outraged Muslims, has sparked a series of apparent tit-for-tat attacks on mosques, churches and schools, undermining the Dutch reputation for tolerance and raising fears among immigrant communities.
A classroom in a Catholic school in the southern town of Eindhoven was destroyed late on Wednesday in a suspected arson attack. A Moroccan was also shot dead in Breda but police said his death was unlikely to be connected to Van Gogh’s murder.
The letter to parliament said the security services would be strengthened and laws tightened so people with dual nationality could be stripped of their Dutch citizenship if they commit crimes. New laws will also allow the closing of mosques if they engage in activities contrary to public order, it added.
The AIVD security service is monitoring up to 200 suspected Muslim militants, the letter said, adding that youths of foreign origin were often victims of discrimination in the Netherlands, which provided a breeding ground for radical ideologies.
In addition to Mohammed B., police have arrested nine people in the main Van Gogh investigation and are still holding five who are suspected of conspiracy to murder Van Gogh and others, and participation in a criminal group with terrorist intent.
The letter from the ministers said the Amsterdam home of Mohammed B. was also frequented by Samir Azzouz, a teenager who who has been charged with planning attacks on a nuclear reactor, Schiphol airport and government buildings.
The ministers said it was not clear whether Mohammed B. had acted alone in planning Van Gogh’s murder, noting that such an attack needed little logistical support. But they said it was conceivable the act had been given a religious stamp of approval, without saying who by.
They said that while Mohammed B. supported the radical group they dubbed the “Hofstadnetwerk” or “court town network” as he had a house and a car, he did not play a key role himself.