A letter left on the body of a Dutch film-maker murdered in Amsterdam contained death threats against a Dutch politician and was signed by an unknown group, the justice minister said tonight.
Dutch authorities have arrested nine suspects, all believed to be radical Islamists, in connection with Tuesday’s shooting and stabbing of Theo van Gogh.
Authorities have said they are investigating possible links between the suspects and foreign terrorist groups, including those responsible for the Casablanca bombings in May last year.
Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said a letter pinned by the killer to Van Gogh’s body with a knife was ‘a direct warning’ to Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
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Ali wrote the script of a film Van Gogh made criticising the treatment of women under Islam, and Van Gogh received death threats after the film was released in August.
Donner said the way the five-page letter “was presented indicates that it is not from one person, but a movement”.
The letter, which was addressed to Ali and signed ‘Saifu Deen al Muwahhied,’ said: “I know definitely that you, Hirsi Ali, will go down.”
Somali-born Ali has frequently outraged fellow Muslims by criticising Islamic customs and the failure of Muslim families to adopt Dutch ways. She remains under police protection.
The letter threatened to bring down ‘non-believers’, saying “I know definitely that America will crumble.”
It was typed in Dutch, with a smattering of Koranic verses written in Arabic and translated into Dutch.
The chief suspect in Van Gogh’s killing, who has been identified only as Mohammed B, 26, holds dual Dutch-Moroccan nationality.
He was arrested after being wounded in the leg during a shootout with police shortly after the murder and is to appear before a judge tomorrow, when prosecutors have said they would file charges.
It is not clear what charges the other eight suspects, all of North African descent, would face.
Mohammed B’s lawyer, Jan Peter Plasman, protested at the release of the letter, saying it would prejudice the case against his client. He declined to comment on whether his client was innocent.
A Moroccan diplomat has travelled to the Netherlands to assist in the investigation, and more than 75 detectives have been put on the case, Dutch officials said.
Authorities described Mohammed B as ‘an associate’ of five men who were briefly detained last year, prosecutors said.
The five had been suspected of providing support to terrorists in Spain and Morocco who were responsible for the bombing in Casablanca in May 2003, Donner told Parliament at the time.
But there had been insufficient evidence to prove any charges, and the five were released.
Four of them were among those arrested this week. The fifth was Samir Azzouz, an 18-year-old of Moroccan descent who was arrested in June and is awaiting trial for allegedly planning to attack a Dutch airport, nuclear reactor or Parliament.
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the Dutch secret service has repeatedly warned that the Netherlands could be a target. It is shadowing 150 extremists around the clock and has said that Muslim immigrant youths are being recruited.
The Dutch public has widely perceived Van Gogh’s killing as an attack on free speech. Politicians have called for an emergency debate on security officials’ failure to prevent it.
Despite widespread condemnation of the murder by mainstream Muslim groups, Muslims fear reprisals, and ethnic tension was evident in Dutch streets.
“This is definitely going to happen more often,” said Nicolette Toering, visiting the spot where Van Gogh was killed. She rejected Muslims’ concerns of being targeted by violence and said unemployed immigrants should leave the country.
Samir Alami, a Dutch-born man of Moroccan descent, said he felt uncomfortable in the Netherlands for the first time while journeying by the train to Amsterdam to visit the crime scene. “People were giving me angry stares, you could see it in their faces,” he said. “I feel terrible.”
Van Gogh will be cremated on Tuesday in a public service.