Netherlands cancels visas for controversial imams' planned visit

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders on Tuesday nixed visas for three controversial imams planning to visit the Netherlands next month, basing his decision on advice from the country's anti-terror agency.

"The visas' withdrawal follows information received from the Dutch Anti-Terrorist and Safety Coordinator (NCTV)," said Koenders' spokesman Ahmed Dadou.

"It fits into the context of the (government's) action programme to prevent jihadism," Dadou told AFP.

He declined to name the imams, but according to Dutch media at least one is believed to have links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

Ruling and opposition lawmakers on Monday deplored the proposed visit by the Muslim preachers, who were invited by a local organisation to address a benefit gala in Rijswijk, just south of The Hague on March 8.

Organisers said the gala's aim was to collect funds "from within the Netherlands with Islam as the starting point, to help improve the lot of orphans, the handicapped, the socially needy, the homeless and asylum-seekers across the world."

Lawmakers, however, claimed the preachers planned to spread ideas linked to the Salafist version of Islam, an ultra-conservative strain of the religion, and urged government not to grant them entry.

"We shouldn't give 'hate-preachers' a soap-box in the Netherlands," Malik Azmani, a lawmaker belonging to Prime Minister Mark Rutte's ruling People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, told the NOS public broadcaster.

Last year, Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher announced a clampdown on imams who were perceived to be spreading radical messages or encouraged terror, in measures to combat Islamic militants and radicalisation of Muslims in the Netherlands.

Militants returning from fighting in Syria also now face jail sentences and legal action can be taken against would-be fighters planning to travel there, including having their passports confiscated.

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