Saturday, 15 September 2007

Qaeda puts bounties on heads of Swedes in cartoon row

Qaeda puts bounties on heads of Swedes in cartoon row


AFP - 14 minutes ago

DUBAI (AFP) - An Al-Qaeda front organization in Iraq has offered rewards to anyone who kills two Swedes behind a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a dog, in a statement posted on the Internet.


The self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq placed a bounty of at least 100,000 dollars on the head of the cartoonist Lars Vilks and 50,000 dollars on Ulf Johansson, editor in chief of the Nerikes Allehanda newspaper which published the caricature.

"We call for the liquidation of the cartoonist Lars who offended our prophet," said the statement issued in the name of the group's leader Sheikh Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

"We announce a reward of 100,000 dollars to anyone who kills this infidel criminal. This reward will be raised to 150,000 dollars if his throat is slit," said the statement whose authenticity could not be verified.

The statement also threatened attacks on Swedish firms unless unspecified "crusaders" issued an apology.

"We know how to force you to apologise. If you do not, expect us to strike the businesses of your major firms like Ericsson, Scania, Volvo, IKEA and Electrolux," it said.

The Swedish TT news agency said Saturday that Vilks was temporarily abroad, and quoted him as feeling safe but on guard.

"I think there's no reason to worry for the moment because I am moving around but when I am back home, in one spot, it will be very easy to track me down," he said.

"This last threat means of course I have more discussions with the police to determine how to act and what we are going to do," Johansson, who has refused to apologise for the cartoon, told AFP.

He said he had received police protection and Swedish authorities were analysing the tape to determine who Sheikh Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was and if he really existed.

The Swedish ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Jan Thesleff, offered an apology to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on September 11 for the controversy created by the cartoon's publication.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt also held talks with envoys from 22 Muslim nations on September 7 in a bid to defuse the row.

The publication of the sketch in Nerikes Allehanda on August 18 -- featuring the prophet's head on a dog's body -- sparked a fiery debate in the Swedish media on freedom of expression and prompted protests by Muslims in the western town of Oerebro, where the newspaper is based.

A strict interpretation of Islam forbids the depiction of Mohammed in any form.

The cartoonist has received previous death threats, while the Swedish foreign ministry has also advised its nationals to exercise caution in the Middle East.

A series of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in Denmark's biggest daily more than a year ago led to riots in several Muslim countries.

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