Monday, September 18, 2006

Al-Qaeda Threatens Jihad over Pope's Remarks

From the Times Online UK ... Al-Qaeda threatens jihad over Pope's remarks. In full ...
An Iraqi militant group led by al-Qaeda has threatened to massacre Christians in response to remarks about Islam by Pope Benedict XVI that have caused offence across the Muslim world.

The Pope quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor who criticised the teachings of Mohammad for endorsing the use of violence, in a speech to an academic audience at a German university last Tuesday.

Yesterday, after a wave of protests across the Islamic world, Benedict said he was deeply sorry. He said that he had had no intention of causing offence, and stressing that the text he had quoted in no way represented his personal views on the Muslim faith and the doctrine of jihad.

"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," the pontiff added.

Today an internet statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group led by Iraq’s branch of al Qaeda, threatened reprisals against "worshippers of the cross" for the Pope's remarks.

"We shall break the cross and spill the wine. ... (you will have no choice but) Islam or death," said the statement, citing a hadith (saying of the Prophet Mohammed) promising Muslims that they would "conquer Rome... as they conquered Constantinople".

"We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya. God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the Mujahideen."

As usual with such statements, the authenticity could not be verified. It was posted on an internet site often used by al-Qaeda and other militant groups. It continued: "The Pope in the Vatican turns in the orbit of Bush. His remarks form part of the mobilisation for a crusade announced by Bush, to raise the morale of the crusader armies."

Two other armed groups in Iraq, Jaish al-Mujahedeen (the Mujahedeen’s Army) and Asaeb al-Iraq al-Jihadiya (League of Jihadists in Iraq), have already threatened the Vatican with reprisals in statements posted on Islamist internet websites.

Another militant group in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah, today also vowed to fight Christians in retaliation.

"You will only see our swords until you go back to God’s true faith Islam," it said in a separate statement, which called the Pope "Satan’s hellhound in the Vatican", saying he was "proud today of his hatred towards Muslims".

"The day is coming when the armies of Islam will destroy the ramparts of Rome," it added in the statement addressed to "Crusaders".

The Pope's use of an obscure medieval quotation, without making it clear that he did not agreed with its contents, has outraged Muslims and triggered protests and even attacks on churches in several Arab towns.

Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said today that the pontiff's remarks were the latest "links in the chain" of a US-Israeli conspiracy aimed at creating conflict between religions.

Gholam Hossein Elham, a Tehran government spokesman, said that the Pope had to do more to make amends. "(His) explanations were necessary but not sufficient. He needs to say more clearly that what he said was an error and correct it," he added.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Sunni Muslim, said on al-Jazeera television that he considered the Pope had not apologised yesterday.

Speaking in the name of the "world union of scholars of Islam", Mr al-Qaradawi called on Muslims to hold a day of "peaceful anger" on Friday, the last day of collective prayer before the start of Ramadan. He said this should involve "demonstrations, or sit-ins in the large mosques in the hour following the prayers."

The head of the Islamic Association of China said Benedict had "gravely hurt" their feelings of Muslims, who would voice their "anger and condemnation".

Scores of Indonesians marched through the streets of Jakarta today, some accusing the Pope of fuelling a holy war.

In Indian Kashmir, shops, businesses and schools remained shut in response to a strike call by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the hardline faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the region’s main separatist alliance.

He rejected the Pope's apology and called for demonstrations to continue. People burnt tyres and shouted "Down with the pope" in several small protests.

Hundreds of angry demonstrators burned an effigy of the Pope in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, saying his remarks had insulted Islam and called for him to be tried by an international court.

There were, however, some signs of relenting. Mohammed Habib, a senior member of Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood, told AFP they considered the apology a retraction of the pope’s statement.

In India, the powerful All India Muslim Personal Law Board based in the northern city of Lucknow called for an end to protests against the Vatican.

Indonesia’s religious affairs minister and the two largest Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, said it was time to move on. "We understand the anger and disappointment of Muslims," Religious Minister Maftuh Basyuni said. "But the Pope has apologised, and as Muslims we have to forgive and forget."

Hasyim Muzadi, the leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, agreed. "The apology has already been conveyed, that is enough," he said. "If we continue to be angry, then people will think the Pope was right."

The Vatican meanwhile has launched a diplomatic offensive to explain to Muslim countries the pope’s position on Islam.

Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper that Vatican ambassadors had been asked to explain to political and religious authorities in Muslim countries the full text of the Pope’s speech, which heretofore had been taken out of context and "heavily manipulated".

In Britain the Archbishop of Canterbury urged calm over the Pope’s remarks and said they needed to be judged against his entire record, where he had spoken very positively about inter-faith dialogue.

The Very Rev Dr Rowan Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican church, said: "There are elements in Islam that can be used to justify violence, just as there are in Christianity and Judaism."

President Jacques Chirac appeared more critical of the Pope as he warned against "anything that increases tensions between peoples or religions", in an interview on Europe 1 radio.

"We must avoid any confusion between Islam, which is of course a respected and respectable religion, and radical Islamism which is a totally different form of behaviour and which is of a political nature," he said.