| Iraqis with a large Quran at a Basra rally on Monday. (AP)
Vatican City, Sept. 18 (Reuters): Al Qaida militants in Iraq vowed war on “worshippers of the cross” and protesters burned a papal effigy today over Pope Benedict’s comments on Islam, while western churchmen and statesmen tried to calm passions.
The statement by an umbrella group led by Iraq’s branch of al Qaida came after the Pontiff said yesterday he was deeply sorry Muslims had been offended by his use of a medieval quotation on Islam and holy war.
“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,” said a Web statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council.
“We shall break the cross and spill the wine ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome ... (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen,” said the statement, posted yesterday on an Internet site often used by al Qaida and other militant groups.
In Iraq’s southern city of Basra, up to 150 demonstrators chanted slogans and burned a white effigy of the Pope.
“No to aggression!”,“We gagged the Pope!”, they chanted in front of the governor’s office in the Shia city. The protesters also burned German, US and Israeli flags.
A speech by Pope Benedict last Tuesday was seen as portraying Islam as a religion tainted by violence, causing dismay among Muslim states where some religious leaders called it the start of a new Christian crusade against Islam.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today that the Pope’s remarks on Islam were in line with what he said was the US’s “crusade” against the religion, state television reported.
“The Great Satan (US) is playing its role in this issue.”