Tuesday, September 19, 2006

From combined dispatches

Extremists called yesterday for an Islamic army to march on Rome because of remarks by Pope Benedict XVI, while a well-known Muslim firebrand said in London that the pontiff should face “capital punishment.”

Elsewhere, Iran’s supreme leader called for more protests over the pontiff’s remarks and protests broke out in South Asia and Indonesia, with angry Muslims saying Benedict’s statement of regret a day earlier did not go far enough. In southern Iraq, demonstrators carrying black flags burned an effigy of the pope.

In London, police increased patrols near churches and began an inquiry into remarks by Anjem Choudhary, a well-known extremist who had called at a rally outside Westminster Cathedral on Sunday for the pope to be “executed.”

The 39-year-old lawyer also had organized a rally earlier this year sparked by cartoons in a Danish newspaper at which some protesters carried placards declaring “Behead Those Who Insult Islam.”

“Non-Muslims must … understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult Islam and the prophet,” Mr. Choudhary was quoted as saying on Sunday by the Daily Mail. “Whoever insults the message of Muhammad is going to be subject to capital punishment.”

In Iraq yesterday, the extremist group Ansar al-Sunna challenged “sleeping Muslims” to prove their manhood by doing something other than “issuing statements or holding demonstrations.”

“If the stupid pig is prancing with his blasphemies in his house,” the group said of the pope in a Web statement, “then let him wait for the day coming soon when the armies of the religion of right knock on the walls of Rome.”

The protests over the pope’s comments have been smaller than those that broke out over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, but there have been several instances of violence.

Attackers hurled firebombs at seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the weekend. The fatal shooting of a nun Sunday in Somalia also could be linked to the dispute.

Extremists said the pope’s comments proved that the West is waging a war with Islam.

Al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies issued a statement calling the pope “a cross-worshipper” and warning, “You and the West are doomed, as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere.

“You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad [holy war] and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism, when God’s rule is established governing all people and nations,” said the statement by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups in Iraq.

In Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for anti-U.S. demonstrations. He argued that although the pope may have been deceived into making his remarks, the words give the West an “excuse for suppressing Muslims” by depicting them as terrorists.

“Those who benefit from the pope’s comments and drive their own arrogant policies should be targeted with attacks and protests,” he said, referring to the United States.

President Bush yesterday tried to calm the Muslim world during a 50-minute meeting in New York with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

“The president noted that the pope had made some apologies for his remarks, and the president believed that the pope was sincere in those remarks,” said Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

Mr. Badawi “accepted the president’s position on the subject,” Mr. Wilder added. Malaysia’s foreign minister has said the pope’s words of explanation had been insufficient.

On Sunday, Benedict said he was “deeply sorry” about any hurt caused by a speech last week in which he quoted a medieval text characterizing some of the prophet Muhammad’s teachings as “evil and inhuman” and calling Islam a religion spread by the sword.

The Vatican yesterday ordered papal representatives around the world to meet with leaders of Muslim countries to explain the pope’s point of view and the full context of his speech.

cStaff writer Stephen Dinan contributed to this report from New York.

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