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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — A Dutch filmmaker who had received death threats after releasing a movie criticizing the treatment of women under Islam was slain in Amsterdam on Tuesday, police said.
A suspect, a 26-year-old man with dual Dutch-Moroccan nationality, was arrested after a shootout with officers that left him wounded, police said.
Filmmaker Theo van Gogh had been threatened after the August airing of the movie “Submission,” which he made with a right-wing Dutch politician who had renounced the Islamic faith of her birth. Van Gogh had received police protection after its release.
Dutch national broadcaster NOS and other media reported that Van Gogh’s killer shot and stabbed his victim and left a note on his body. NOS said witnesses described the attacker as having an “Arab appearance.”
A witness who lives in the neighborhood heard six shots, and saw the man concealing a gun. She said he walked away slowly, spoke to someone at the edge of the park, and then ran.
“He was walking slowly, like he was trying to be cool,” she said, describing him as wearing a long beard and Islamic garb. “He was either an Arabic man or someone disguised as a Muslim,” she said.
Another witness told Dutch Radio 1 the killer arrived by bicycle and shot Van Gogh as he got out of a car. “He fell backward on the bicycle path and just laid there. The shooter stayed next to him and waited. Waited to make sure he was dead.”
The slain filmmaker was the great grandson of the brother of famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, who was also named Theo. In a recent radio interview, Van Gogh dismissed the threats and called the movie “the best protection I could have. It’s not something I worry about.”
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called on the Dutch people to remain calm.
“Nothing is known about the motive,” he said in a written statement. “I want to call on everyone not to jump to far-reaching conclusions. The facts must first be carefully weighed so let’s allow the investigators to do their jobs.”
Balkenende praised Van Gogh as a proponent of free speech who had “outspoken opinions.”
“It would be unacceptable if a difference of opinion led to this brutal murder,” he said.
Police spokesman Eric Vermeulen said the attacker fled to the nearby East Park, and was arrested after exchanging gunfire with police. Both the suspect and a policeman suffered minor injuries.
“They were conscious” when taken to hospital, Vermeulen said.
Van Gogh’s killing immediately rekindled memories of the 2002 assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn who polarized the nation with his anti-immigration views and was shot to death days before national elections.
In addition to his film, van Gogh also wrote columns about Islam that were published on his Web site, www.theovangogh.nl, and Dutch newspaper Metro.
The short television film “Submission” aired on Dutch television in August, enraged the Muslim community in the Netherlands.
It told the fictional story of a Muslim woman forced into a violent marriage, raped by a relative and brutally punished for adultery.
The English-language film was scripted by a right-wing politician who years ago renounced the Islamic faith of her birth and now refers to herself as an “ex-Muslim.”
Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch parliament, has repeatedly outraged fellow Muslims by criticizing Islamic customs and the failure of Muslim families to adopt Dutch ways.
The place of Muslim immigrants in Dutch society has long been a contentious issue in the Netherlands, where many right-wing politicians have pushed for tougher immigration laws and say Muslims already settled in the country must make a greater effort to assimilate.
Theo van Gogh, 47, has often come under criticism for his controversial movies. In December, his next movie “06-05,” about the May 6, 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, is scheduled to debut on the Internet.
(Posted on November 2, 2004)