Anti-Koran film sparks protests in Pakistan

Militant reportedly linked to al-Qaida warns of reprisal attacks.

pakistan koran protest  (photo credit:)
pakistan koran protest
(photo credit: )
Hundreds of Islamists staged angry protests across Pakistan on Friday after the release of an anti-Koran film by a Dutch lawmaker that a militant allegedly linked to al-Qaida's No. 2 leader has warned will spark reprisal attacks. Small groups of demonstrators, mostly followers of hard-line religious groups, rallied in major cities, demanding Pakistan cut diplomatic relations with the Netherlands. A banner at one demonstration read, "We hate the uncivilized West." The 15-minute film by Geert Wilders, who heads a reactionary political party with seats in the Dutch parliament, was posted on a Web site late Thursday. It sets verses of the Koran against a background of images from terrorist attacks. Pakistan's government condemned the "defamatory film, which deeply offended the sentiments of Muslims all over the world." It summoned the Dutch ambassador to lodge a "strong protest." The government expected the movie to "result in expressions of strong abhorrence and outrage," a Foreign Office statement said. Protests have been simmering for weeks over the recent republication in Danish newspapers of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, and authorities are concerned the Dutch film could spark the kind of violent unrest that the cartoons originally A militant believed linked to al-Qaida's deputy chief Ayman al-Zawahri told The Associated Press in the northwestern city of Peshawar last week militants would mount revenge attacks against foreigners because of Wilders' film. "Foreigners will be attacked. The situation will change, change, change," said Qari Mohammed Yusuf, whose also said his two brothers died fighting alongside al-Zawahri. "The reaction was in (the Pakistani tribal region of) Waziristan before, but tomorrow it will be in Kabul and even in Holland and in Denmark." Yusuf's militant links have been verified by independent sources, including the former police chief of his home province of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, who says Yusuf is wanted in connection with several terrorist attacks in that region. Yusuf's information has proved reliable in the past. He says he has acted as a cameraman for the al-Qaida production company Al Sahab, once filming al-Zawahri. Yusuf was interviewed at a rendezvous deep in the old quarter of Peshawar, about an hour's drive from the Afghan border. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden issued a rare message of his own on March 20 condemning Europe for the publication of the prophet cartoons and warned of a "severe" reaction for Europeans. Fears of militant attacks against foreigners in Pakistan have increased since the bombing of an Italian restaurant in Islamabad this month that killed a Turkish woman and wounded a dozen more people, including four Americans working with the FBI. In Islamabad security around the residence of the Dutch ambassador was tight on Friday with black and yellow cement barricades slowing traffic to a crawl - a protective step in case of a suicide car bombing. The Netherlands Embassy posted a statement on its Web site rejecting Wilders' film and its depiction of Islam. "The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation ... We therefore regret that Mr. Wilders has released this film," it said. "We believe it serves no purpose other than to cause offense. But feeling offended must never be used as an excuse for aggression and threats." So far, protests over the Danish cartoons in Pakistan have been relatively small and peaceful, but more threatening and larger gatherings have been staged in Afghanistan, where both Denmark and Holland have troops in the NATO-led security force. The Dutch forces are serving in the deadly southern region of Uruzgan province where the Taliban insurgency has a strong following. Some of the recent demonstrations in Afghanistan called for the removal of both the Dutch and Danish soldiers. The largest protest in Pakistan on Friday was in Peshawar, where about 1,500 people chanted "Death to the government of Denmark," burned an effigy of the Danish prime minister and dragged through the street and trampled a Danish flag. Rallies were also staged in the cities of Quetta, Karachi and Lahore. More are planned in the coming week. "They (the Dutch) are savage and uncivilized," Nasrullah Shaji, a local leader from the religious Jamaat-e-Islami party told scores of protesters outside a Karachi mosque. "Had the (Pakistani) government taken some action against the cartoon makers, they would have not dared to make the movie," said another JI party leader, Asadullah Bhutto.