- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

From combined dispatches

GRONINGEN, Netherlands — Europe risks becoming a breeding ground for Islamic extremism and the problem has to be dealt with urgently, a Dutch official said yesterday.

“In all of Europe, young people are becoming more radical,” said Justice Minister Rita Verdonk, whose country holds the presidency of the European Union. She was speaking at an EU conference on immigration and integration being held in this northern Dutch city.

“In the Netherlands, we were able to see what happens with radicalization,” said Mrs. Verdonk, who has taken a tough line on immigration since joining the conservative Dutch government.

As she spoke, police in The Hague made two arrests, ending a 14-hour siege of an apartment building that began when suspects sought in a counterterrorism probe wounded three officers with a hand grenade.

Police evacuated five city streets and banned air traffic over The Hague during the siege in a working-class district.

ANP news agency reported that police in the central region of Utrecht also arrested a man yesterday.

The Netherlands has been shaken by several incidents since film director Theo van Gogh was killed Nov. 2 by a suspected Islamist. Three mosques were targeted by arsonists and two by vandals over the weekend, and two Islamic schools have been attacked.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who visited a primary school destroyed by fire Tuesday, told parliament that he would work with organizations representing the almost 1 million Muslims who make up nearly 6 percent of the population.

“We must not allow ourselves to be swept away in a maelstrom of violence,” he said. “Free expression of opinion, freedom of religion and other basic rights are the foundation stones of our state and our democracy. They are valid for everybody, always.”

Police refused to confirm whether the raid in The Hague was linked to the investigation into the van Gogh killing. Police arrested 10 persons in the investigation and continue to hold six, including the prime suspect also charged with links to a group with terrorism plans.

Prosecutors have said they are looking for other militant cells and likely links with international Islamist groups.

Speaking at the EU conference, Mrs. Verdonk said the man suspected of killing Mr. van Gogh “was driven by the same dark forces” that were behind the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and the Madrid train bombings last year.

“Europe must not become a breeding ground for Islamic terrorism,” she said, but added: “We will not allow the Muslim community to be excluded and accused.”

Jonathan Faull, the head of the European Commission division on justice, freedom and security, said there was no place for “murder and terrorism” in a democratic society.

“Whatever the precise borderline between integration and assimilation, the law should be respected,” he said.

The commission underlined that each country in Europe had its own approach to the challenge of immigration.

France emphasizes assimilation, in particular through the education system, and the Netherlands finances religious schools, Christian as well as Islamic.

“Immigrants should not be assimilated but subscribe to Dutch customs and values,” Mrs. Verdonk said.

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