Downing Street defends Rushdie knighthood

Al-Qaida threatens retaliation for decision to honor author of The Satanic Verses with knighthood.

rushdie 88 (photo credit: )
rushdie 88
(photo credit: )
The British Prime Minister's Office responded on Wednesday to an al-Qaida threat of retaliation for the decision to honor author Salman Rushdie with knighthood. A Downing Street official asserted that terrorists would not "undermine the British way of life," after Osama Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued a warning on Tuesday that Britain faced fresh terror attacks as "punishment." The 20-minute audiotape was posted on a Web site used by Islamic armed groups, and was directed at Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In the recording, the al-Qaida second-in-command said the group was preparing a "very precise response" in retaliation for Britain's having knighted the controversial author in the Queen's Birthday Honours last month. Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses sparked widespread protests by Muslims around the world and led Iran to issue a fatwa in 1989 ordering his execution. In his speech, entitled "Malicious Britain and its Indian Slaves," Zawahri said: "I say to Blair's successor that the policy of your predecessor drew catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq and even in the center of London." He added: "If you did not learn the lesson, then we are ready to repeat it, God willing, until we are sure you have fully understood." He said that Britain's award for the Indian-born author was an "insult to Islam." Iran and Pakistan have also condemned the decision. Iran claimed it showed "Islamophobia" among British officials. Pakistan passed a resolution in its parliament, saying the British government had not only "disappointed the Pakistani nation, but also hurt its feelings." The UK Foreign Office said in response to the threat that the author's knighthood was a reflection of his contribution to literature. "The government has already made clear that Rushdie's honor was not intended as an insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammad," a Foreign Office spokesman said. The Foreign Office added that it would maintain efforts to thwart terrorists. "We will continue to tackle the threat from international terrorism as a priority in order to prevent the risk of attacks on British interests at home and overseas, including from al-Qaida." Zawahri's threat came the day after four terrorists were convicted of the July 21 plot to launch suicide attacks on London. On Monday, following a six-month trial, a jury unanimously found Muktar Ibrahim, 29, Yassin Omar, 26, Ramzi Mohammed, 25, and Hussain Osman, 28, guilty of conspiracy to murder in connection with the failed attacks. The four were sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday. Meanwhile, it was announced Wednesday that two other men - Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, 34, and Adel Yahya, 24 - were to face a retrial for the botched attacks, since the first jury failed to reach a verdict. The two were accused of being part of the terrorist plot to bomb London two weeks after the 7/7 attacks in 2005. The men allegedly tried to detonate rucksacks loaded with explosives on three tube trains and a bus.