Dutch Parliament Wants Imam Limits

The Dutch parliament asked the government Friday to draft legislation compelling mosques to employ only imams who have studied Islamic religion in the Netherlands.

The proposal, supported by the government and the opposition, came after a debate in which Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's government was accused of underestimating Islamic terrorism and failing to protect a filmmaker killed by a suspected Muslim radical on Nov. 2.

Theo van Gogh's killing has triggered a cycle of retaliatory attacks on Islamic buildings and Christian churches that shocked this traditionally peaceful and tolerant nation.

In a sometimes testy debate over the slaying, lawmakers pushed the government to shut down hate-mongering Web sites and broadcasters and to improve monitoring of foreign imams who come to preach at any of the Netherlands' 500 or so mosques.

Balkenende promised ``a hard-line approach to those who want to wreck'' Dutch society.

His government promised more money to combat terrorism and a stricter monitoring of foreign funding of Dutch mosques. It also proposed giving police greater powers to conduct searches, detain terrorist suspects and access their bank accounts.

A vote on the proposal for Dutch-educated imams was delayed. Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said it may be discriminatory unless applied to all religions. If passed, it would take effect in 2008.

The government narrowly escaped a confidence motion based on its anti-terrorism record that has generated much criticism, even from government supporters.

Jozias van Aartsen, leader of Balkenende's Liberal allies, said the government had been ``lax'' and gave ``fuzzy explanations'' why the man charged with Van Gogh's murder was not tracked more closely even though he consorted with hard-core Islamists on a government watch list.

``Not all Muslims are terrorists,'' he said, ``but there are a large number of terrorists in this world that feel attached to an identity as Muslim. They want to destroy us.''

Interior Minister Johan Remkes said the Dutch intelligence service tracks about 150 radical Muslims who are considered dangerous but lacks the resources to monitor them constantly.

``It is an illusion to think you can have complete operational control over that group 24 hours a day, seven days a week,'' Remkes said.

The man suspected of murdering Van Gogh, Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, was a peripheral figure in an Islamic terrorist network in Amsterdam and was not on the list of radicals, Remkes said.

The government briefly monitored Bouyeri's cell phone conversations until two weeks before Van Gogh's slaying and knew he consorted with Muslim extremists, he said.

``It is a disgrace that we know potential terrorists are running free in this country,'' said Geert Wilders, a right-wing lawmaker who demanded that all the suspected radical Muslims on the government's watch list be arrested.

A harsh critic of Islamic fundamentalism, Wilders has gone into hiding since Van Gogh's murder, except during the parliamentary debates. Also hiding is Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a conservative legislator who collaborated with Van Gogh on ``Submission,'' his film criticizing the way Islam treats women.

The government announced new steps to make it easier to infiltrate terrorist networks. If enacted, investigators will not have to prove ``reasonable'' suspicion of terrorist activities to conduct searches and detain people -- ``indications'' will suffice. ``When it comes to preparing a terrorist attack, it's better to have 10 possibly innocent people temporarily in jail than one with a bomb on the street,'' said Maxime Verhagen, the floor leader of Balkenende's own Christian Democrats.

It will also be easier to access bank accounts of suspects and the right for police to make preventive searches of vehicles near sites where many people gather such as sports arenas, airports, industrial parks and rail and bus stations.

The murder of Van Gogh, a distant relative of the painter Vincent Van Gogh, has triggered at least 17 attacks against Muslim schools and mosques as well as Christian churches. A public elementary school and a church were targeted by arsonists Wednesday, while an elementary school classroom was seriously damaged in Eindhoven, the site of a bombing of a Muslim school earlier this week.

Van Gogh's killer left a note impaled on the filmmaker's chest threatening further attacks on Dutch politicians in the name of fundamentalist Islam.

Thirteen people have been arrested on suspicion of links to terrorism since the killing.