Tensions still high over pope's remarks

September 18, 2006 17:17

Umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq: Pontiff and West are "doomed."

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Al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies responded on Monday to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on Islam and holy war, proclaiming that jihad would continue until Islam takes over the world. Schools and shops in Kashmir shut their doors and demonstrators took to the streets in Iraq and Indonesia and staged a sit-in at a mosque in Damascus to protest the pontiff despite attempts by the Vatican to quell the fury. Monday's reaction came a day after the pope apologized for the angry response to a speech he gave last week, quoting a medieval text characterizing some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman." Many Muslims said Benedict's explanation was not enough. The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al-Qaida in Iraq, issued a statement on a Web forum about the pope's remarks, saying the pontiff and the West were "doomed." The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately independently verified. "You infidels and despotic, 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," the statement said. In China, where the government exerts tight controls over religious activities, the president of Islamic Association of China said Benedict insulted both Islam and Muhammad. "This has gravely hurt the feelings of the Muslims across the world, including those from China," Chen Guangyuan, a top Chinese religious official, told the Xinhua news agency. Hundreds marched through the streets in the Iraqi city of Basra carrying black flags Monday as dozens protested in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. "His comments really hurt Muslim all over the world," Umar Nawawi of the radical Islamic Defenders' Front said Monday in Jakarta. "We should remind him not to say such things which can only fuel a holy war." In some parts of the Middle East, where Muslims hurled firebombs at seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the weekend, Christian leaders posted guards outside some churches. "We are afraid," said Sonia Kobatazi, a Christian Lebanese, after Mass on Sunday at the Maronite Christian St. George Cathedral in Beirut, Lebanon, where about a dozen policemen carrying automatic weapons stood guard outside. Police in Egypt also said security was tighter at churches and universities. Christians _ a minority in the Mideast that varies from nearly 40 percent in Lebanon to tiny communities in the Gulf states _ generally live in peace with the majority Muslims. But relations are sometimes strained and outbreaks of violence have occurred in recent years. Some worry the flap over the pope will lead to a new round. The protests and violence have stirred up memories of the fury over cartoons that were published in a Danish newspaper of Muhammad, as well as fears of violence against Christians. Some feared that the execution-style killing of an elderly nun gunned down Sunday at the Somali hospital where she worked might be connected to anger over the pope's comments. But others asked for calm and reminded people that the two faiths must live together. "We in Egypt, despite coming from two different religions, have lived together for 14 centuries and engaged in religious dialogue," the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III said in Cairo on Sunday. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the Egypt's 73 million people. In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a group of clerics that demonstrators should target the United States in their protests over the pope. "Those who take benefit from pope's comment and drive their own arrogant policies should be targeted of attack and protest," he said. Islamic countries also asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to examine the question of religious tolerance, saying Benedict's remarks on threatened to alienate Muslims from the West. Masood Khan, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said Muslim countries were "reassured that the pope has expressed regrets, distanced himself from the text that caused offense and renewed his invitation for a frank and sincere dialogue with mutual respect. But Malaysia, which chairs the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, has expressed hopes that the pope's comments do "not reflect a new trend for the Vatican policy toward the Islamic religion." "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 was quoted as saying by the Bernama news agency.

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