Dutch raise threat level ahead of anti-Koran film

AMSTERDAM Thu Mar 6, 2008 9:31pm IST

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands raised its national risk level of a terrorist attack to "substantial" on Thursday ahead of the launch of a film made by a right-wing politician that is expected to be critical of the Koran.

The Dutch counter-terrorism agency said in a report to parliament its new threat assessment was also influenced by arrests elsewhere in Europe that had thwarted attacks by groups directed or influenced by al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The threat level had been at "substantial" before as religious and racial tensions simmered after an Islamic militant killed director Theo Van Gogh in 2004 over a separate film he made accusing Islam of condoning violence against women.

The Dutch government has warned the latest film, expected to be released this month by populist Geert Wilders, might spark unrest and sanctions similar to those triggered when Danish newspapers published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006.

The counter-terrorism agency said the way Islam was debated in the Netherlands, including the anti-Koran film, had raised the profile of the country in Muslim countries, noting Islamist death threats against Wilders and calls to attack Dutch troops.

Afghan Taliban militants, backed by al Qaeda, have branded the recent reprinting of the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad and the Wilders' film part of a "Crusader war" against Muslims.

The Islamic movement is leading an insurgency in Afghanistan against Afghan and foreign troops led by NATO. Afghan demonstrators angered by the cartoon and the film have demanded the expulsion of Danish and Dutch troops serving with NATO.

Wilders has given few details about the film he is calling "Fitna", an Arabic term used in the Koran and sometimes translated as "strife". He has called the Koran a "fascist" book that incites violence and said it should be banned.

FOUR-STAGE SYSTEM

The Netherlands has a four-stage risk classification system -- the lowest is "minimal", the highest is "critical".

The counter-terrorism agency cut the threat level to the second-lowest "limited" last April, citing little fresh activity by militant networks in the country and growing resistance to radicalisation among the one million Muslims in the Netherlands.

In its new report, the agency noted that all the important Muslim organisations in the Netherlands were calling for calm in response to the Wilders film.

No Dutch broadcaster wants to show the new film, the Volkskrant newspaper reported on Thursday, meaning Wilders will probably launch it on the Internet and at a news conference in The Hague, tentatively scheduled for March 28, media reported.

A majority of Dutch people want the film to be broadcast even though they fear it will stoke tension with Muslims and harm relations with Arab nations, a poll showed on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen met ambassadors from Muslim countries on Wednesday to discuss the film and stress that the government did not share Wilders' views. He asked them to make sure that Dutch citizens and buildings abroad are protected.

Pakistan's foreign ministry has accused the Dutch politician of "propagating the politics of hate and promoting xenophobia".

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