THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Dutch government is considering new laws to empower anti-terrorism investigators to detain suspects without evidence that they may have committed a crime, the justice minister told The Associated Press on Monday.
Dutch officials also are weighing wider powers for intelligence gathering, Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner (search) said in an interview.
"In those cases where we can't even clearly prove the existence of recruitment or radicalization, but only have a suspicion, we will still use possible administrative powers and other powers to disrupt it as much as possible," he said.
The action comes less than two weeks after the Nov. 2 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh (search) following the release of his latest movie that denounced the treatment of women in Muslim countries. An alleged Islamic extremist has been arrested in the slaying.
Since the killing, anti-terrorism forces picked up more than 40 suspects across the Netherlands, Donner said.
Mohammed Bouyeri (search), 26, a dual Dutch-Moroccan citizen was captured after a gun battle with police moments after the attack, and accused of Van Gogh's killing.
The increased powers for law enforcement aren't the first instance of the Dutch government reacting to terrorist plots.
Fears of terrorism have spawned other recent harsh security measures — from forcing citizens over 13 to carry identity cards, to authorizing police to stop and search people with no apparent cause.
Among other measures implemented in the Netherlands are relaxing rules on wiretapping and monitoring Internet traffic, and tripling the amount of time suspects can be held without charge from three days to 10.
The actions have challenged the image of the Netherlands as one of the world's most progressive nations.
Donner also said authorities will launch an international manhunt for the alleged Syrian leader of a Dutch-based terrorist group responsible for Van Gogh's murder.
He said the alleged leader of the radical cell behind Van Gogh's slaying has fled the country and is believed to be in hiding abroad.
The alleged ringleader, Redouan al-Issar, was detained by Dutch police before Van Gogh's murder, but released due to insufficient evidence that he had committed or was plotting a crime, Donner said.
He said al-Issar headed the "Hofstad Network (search)," a group following the ideology of the radical Islamic philosophy el-Takfir wa el-Hijra, which inspired groups like Al Qaeda and originated in Egypt in the late 1960s.
He said the group had been tracked in the Netherlands since 2002. Dutch officials tipped Portuguese intelligence in June 2004 when members of the group traveled to Portugal, fearing they were plotting a terrorist attack during the European soccer championships. The three were deported from Portugal.
Al-Issar also had "contacts with certain people involved in the Casablanca attacks," he said, referring to five simultaneous suicide bombs in the Moroccan port city in 2003 that killed 33 bystanders. He declined to give further details.
Donner also said other terrorist groups are active in the Netherlands apart from the one believed responsible for the Van Gogh killing.
"We are now confronted with groups of radicals that have developed internally in the Netherlands," Donner said.