The Netherlands raised its national risk level of a terrorist attack to "substantial," ahead of the release of a short film critical of the Quran produced by populist far-right politician Geert Wilders.
Demonstrators took to the streets in Afghanistan to protest the Dutch film
The Dutch centrist coalition government has raised the terrorism alert level from "limited" to "substantial" because of "increased international threats," a justice ministry spokesman announced Thursday, March 6.
The move anticipates the release of a film about the Quran that has triggered controversy and security concerns ahead of its release later this month.
"Fitna" was produced by Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party and the Netherlands' most outspoken critic of Islam.
In the past, Wilders has deemed the Quran incompatible with Dutch values. He recently said his film will show how the Muslim holy book is "an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror."
"Fitna" is an Arabic term used in the Quran usually translated as "strife" or "discord."
Damaging Dutch political and economic interests
Wilders said he had hoped for his film to be broadcast on Dutch TV
The Dutch government has warned that the film might spark unrest and sanctions similar to those triggered when Danish newspapers published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in 2006.
On Friday, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende warned Wilders that the release of his film could have "far-reaching security consequences" and even "deaths," calling on him to take responsibility for the possible consequences of the film.
Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has met ambassadors from Muslim countries to discuss the matter, emphasizing that the government does not share Wilders' views. He asked them to make sure that Dutch citizens and buildings abroad are protected.
NATO, meanwhile, is believed to be concerned about the safety of its troops in Afghanistan after hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif earlier in the week in protest. The crowds set fire to Dutch flags and called for the immediate withdrawal of the Dutch army from Afghanistan.
"I fear that soldiers will come under fire because of this film, and I am not afraid to say so," said NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop.
Various Dutch employers' associations and employees unions, as well as representatives of the Protestant Church have also urged Wilders not to release the film.
The Dutch counter-terrorism agency said in a report to parliament Thursday that the 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 last time the threat level was this high was after an Islamic militant killed director Theo Van Gogh in 2004 over a film he made accusing Islam of condoning violence against women.
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, reported Reuters, citing little fresh activity by militant networks in the country and growing resistance to radicalization among the one million Muslims in the Netherlands.
In its new report, the agency noted that the country's main Muslim organizations had called for calm in response to the Wilders film.
Are Dutch troops at risk
Wilders is expected to release the film on March 28 at the government press center in The Hague, where security measures are already in place.
In an interview Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad Thursday, Wilders said he was disappointed that no Dutch broadcaster had been willing to show it.
"I had hoped that a television broadcaster would say: 'You have the right to do this, we will give you a podium,'" he said.
"Fitna" will also be made available online.
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.
The Dutch government says the week-long operation to recover wreckage from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is complete. Continued fighting around the broad debris field had delayed the operation.
The Italian coast guard and navy have intercepted hundreds of migrants from the central Mediterranean since Thursday. Meanwhile in Cyprus, authorities have rescued a large group of Syrian refugees heading for Europe.
German intelligence sources say some 60 Germans have died fighting for the jihadist group "Islamic State." Many others have returned from conflict zones in Syria and Iraq - and now pose a threat at home.