- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

12:59 p.m.

CAIRO — An al Qaeda-linked extremist group warned Pope Benedict XVI today that he and the West were “doomed,” as protesters raged across the Muslim world to demand more of an apology from the pontiff for his remarks about Islam and violence.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, issued a statement on a Web forum vowing to continue its holy war against the West. The authenticity of the statement could not be verified independently.

The group said Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as “the worshipper of the cross,” saying, “You and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere. … We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose [the] head tax; then the only thing acceptable is a conversion [to Islam] or [being killed by] the sword.”

Islam forbids drinking alcohol and requires non-Muslims to pay a head tax to safeguard their lives if conquered by Muslims. They are exempt if they convert to Islam.

In Indian-controlled Kashmir, meanwhile, shops, businesses and schools shut down in response to a strike call by the head of a hard-line Muslim separatist leader to denounce Benedict. For the third day running, people burned tires and shouted “Down with the pope.”

Protests also broke out in Iraq, where angry demonstrators burned an effigy of the pope in Basra, and in Indonesia, where more than 100 people rallied in front of the heavily guarded Vatican Embassy in Jakarta, waving banners that said the “Pope is building religion on hatred.”

The pope yesterday said he was “deeply sorry” about the angry reaction to his speech last week in which he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of Islam’s prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman” and referred to spreading Islam “by the sword.”

Benedict said the remarks came from a text that didn’t reflect his own opinion.

“I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect,” he said during his weekly appearance before pilgrims in Italy.

The statement of regret — the pope’s second in two days — helped ease some tensions.

In Turkey, where outrage against Benedict’s remarks had been swift, Catholic bishops decided today that no changes were necessary in his upcoming visit in November — his first to a Muslim country, Vatican spokesman George Marovic said.

However, State Minister Mehmet Aydin, who oversees religious affairs in Turkey, said he expected Turkish authorities to cancel the visit if Benedict does not offer a full apology.

The secretary-general of the Turkish HUKUK-DER law association submitted a request to the Justice Ministry asking that the pope be arrested upon entering Turkey.

The appeal by Fikret Karabekmez, a former legislator for the banned pro-Islamic Welfare Party, called for Benedict to be tried under several Turkish laws. A prosecutor in the ministry will evaluate the request and decide whether to open a case.

Angry reactions also persisted in other corners of the Muslim world, where many demanded more of an apology by the pope than yesterday’s statement of regret.

“Muslims have all this while felt oppressed, and the statement by the pope saying he is sorry about the angry reaction is inadequate to calm the anger — more so because he is the highest leader of the Vatican,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI sent a letter to the Vatican in which he implored Benedict to show “the same respect for Islam that you have for the other religions,” Moroccan press reported. Morocco withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican over the weekend.

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