U.S. pastor says he will put Mohammed ‘on trial’ next as NATO chief condemns Koran burning for starting riots
- Killings in Kandahar follow UN attack that left up to 20 dead and 83 wounded
- Taliban claims responsibility for UN attack
- Hamid Karzai calls for U.S. congress to condemn controversial pastor
- General Petraeus condemns pastor Terry Jones
- Demonstrations against the burnings take place across the Middle East
- President Obama appeals for calm and condemns Koran burning as an ‘act of bigotry’ – but does not mention Florida pastor
- Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish and Nepalese nationals among those killed
Despite clear evidence that his actions have led to multiple murders and widespread violence in the Middle East, controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones has vowed to step up his provocative campaign against Islam.
The radical pastor said that he was considering putting Islamic prophet Mohammed ‘on trial’ for his next ‘day of judgement’ publicity stunt.
His last, in which he oversaw the burning of a copy of the Koran after a six-hour mock trial, has been directly responsible for a wave of violence that began last night and has left 30 people dead and more than 150 injured.
Don’t blame me: Florida Pastor Terry Jones in his office at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. He says his Koran-burning stunt was meant to be provocative
The defiant stance has led General Petraeus, the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, to join international condemnation of pastor Jones.
The General urged Afghans to understand only a small number of people had been disrespectful to the Koran and Islam.
He said: ‘We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Koran.
‘We also offer condolences to the families of all those injured and killed in violence which occurred in the wake of the burning of the Holy Koran.’
The call comes after a third day of violence in Afghanistan saw at least ten deaths, 78 injured and at least 17 arrests as protesters clash with security forces in Kandahar.
There were also reports of attempted suicide attacks on a U.S. military base in Kabul, but these were not directly linked to Mr Jones’s actions.
The vilified pastor remains unrepentant about his actions, and has even hinted that he will take his provocative stance further.
He said in an interview: ‘It is definitely a consideration to stage a trial on the life of Mohammed in the future.’
Such a move would trigger further violent protests in the Muslim world – even in more moderate Islamic states.
Action and reaction: While jones remains defiant (and relatively safe) in Florida, outraged Muslims in Herat, Afghanistan burn the American flag as protests around the country and Middle East flare into deadly violence
But Mr Jones shows no signs of backing down, refusing to admit the violence is his fault, and apparently proud of his actions.
In an interview at his Dove World Outreach Center, the pastor at least admitted that he was saddened by the Afghan attacks – but added that he would burn the Koran again if given the chance.
He told the New York Times: ‘It was intended to stir the pot; if you don’t shake the boat, everyone will stay in their complacency.
‘Emotionally, it’s not all that easy. People have tried to make us responsible for the people who are killed. It’s unfair and somewhat damaging.
‘Did our action provoke them? Of course. Is it a provocation that can be justified? Is it a provocation that should lead to death?
‘When lawyers provoke me, when banks provoke me, when reporters provoke me, I can’t kill them. That would not fly.’
It is not surprising that Mr Jones should mention lawyers, banks and reporters as his tormentors.
The pastor, whose church membership has dwindled and who is a hate figure in his own community, is also near broke.
A second wave of violence began this morning when demonstrators clashed with security forces.
A statement by the Kandahar governor’s office said that 10 protesters had been killed and 78 injured. Seventeen people, including seven armed men, were arrested, the statement said.
Mr Jones told the Times that, in recent weeks, he had received more than 300 death threats via phone and email, and had been told by the FBI that there was a $2.4 million contract on his life.
He said: ‘I don’t right now feel personally afraid. But we are armed.’
Mr Jones admitted that he knew the Koran-burning stunt could lead to violence, adding: ‘We were worried. We knew it was possible.’
But it clearly did not stop him.
The recent killings, which involved the beheading of two UN guards in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, will not do anything to add to Mr Jones’s international popularity.
His March 20 burning stunt received little press in Afghanistan at first. But after President Hamid Karzai condemned the burning of the book and religious leaders called for justice in sermons yesterday, thousands poured into the streets in several cities to protest.
At least eight UN staff and around a dozen locals were murdered after a mob killed the UN guards, stole their weapons and opened fire.
In other attacks a suicide bomber struck Kabul and a violent demonstration rattled the southern city of Kandahar.
Security forces shot rounds into the air in Kandahar to stop a crowd from burning shops and cars bent on destruction while much of the rest of the city was closed.
Reports said 10 people were killed and around 78 were wounded.
Yesterday Mr Jones, who ignored international warnings that his actions would undoubtedly lead to violent reprisals, said the blame laid at the feet of the attackers.
He said: ‘We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities. The time has come to hold Islam accountable.
‘Our United States government and our President must take a close, realistic look at the radical element Islam. Islam is not a religion of peace.
‘We demand action from the United Nations. Muslim dominated countries can no longer be allowed to spread their hate against Christians and minorities.’
President Barack Obama did speak out about the violence last night – but did not mention Pastor Jones. He said: ‘We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.’
Obama said the desecration of the Koran ‘is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry’ – but that was the closest he came to touching on the Jones subject.
The Taliban has reportedly claimed responsibility for the killings, saying they were part of a campaign of violence in the run up to presidential elections.
The bloodshed on Friday is the worst attack on the U.N. in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.
Among those murdered were Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish and Nepalese nationals. Two were decapitated.
The Norwegian Defence Ministry said one of the Norwegian victims was Lt. Col Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot.
Mr Jones, a former furniture salesman, was quick to respond to accusations that blood was on his hands over the killings.
he said: ‘They must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech, and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed.’
The controversial pastor triggered international outrage last year when he urged Americans to burn the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
He relented following an intervention by President Obama but on March 20 he and pastor Wayne Sapp finally carried out their threat.
BLOODY DAY FOR UN AS 10 DIE
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan was established on 28 March, 2002 and is headed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura.
The mission has 23 field offices throughout Afghanistan – split into eight regional offices and 15 provincial offices.
Of the 1,500 staff attached to the mission, around 80 per cent are Afghan nationals.
There are two key elements to the UN mission, the Political element, which among other duties oversees elections in the country and the Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction element which looks after re-building the country’s infrastructure.
After Sapp set fire to the text, he let it burn for ten minutes.
Mohammad Azim, a businessman in Mazer-i-Sharif, said that before the violence, clerics with loudspeakers had driven around the city in two cars to invite residents to the protest.
According to Afghan officials it looks increasingly likely that the attacks were carried out by insurgents who had blended into the angry crowds.
Last night Afghan police said they had arrested the suspected mastermind behind the attack.
Rawof Taj, deputy police chief in Balkh province, said this evening he was one of more than 20 people arrested after the violence.
Taj said the suspected mastermind was from Kapisa province, a hotbed of the insurgency about 250 miles south east of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Staffan De Mistura, the top UN representative in Afghanistan, was heading to Mazar-i-Sharif to handle the matter personally.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Nairobi that the attack was ‘outrageous and cowardly’.
The worst previous attack was in 2009 in an insurgent assault on a guesthouse where UN staff were staying. Five UN staffers were killed and nine others wounded.
In October 2010, several militants were killed when they attempted to ambush the UN compound in Herat dressed in burkas worn by women.
General Daud Daud, commander of Afghan National Police in several northern provinces, said those killed included five Nepalese guards who were working for the UN and two other foreigners employed at the complex.
A UN spokesman confirmed that workers had been killed at the mission, but he said the situation on the ground was still confusing and it was difficult to ‘ascertain facts’.
The deaths are a major setback for the U.N. and international forces who want the Afghan government to take control of its own security by 2014.
Only last week President Hamid Karzai said the city of Mazar-i-Sharif would be one of the first areas handed over to Afghan control this year.
Simmering anger at the burnings finally erupted across the Middle East today.
Thousands of demonstrators marched through the western Afghan city of Herat.
There, protesters burned a U.S. flag at a sports stadium and chanted ‘Death to the US’ and ‘They broke the heart of Islam’.
Around 200 also protested near the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Both protests remained relatively peaceful.
Demonstrations against the Koran burning also took place in Pakistan today.
Women representing the Working Women Welfare Trust marched through the streets of Karachi voicing their anger against Pastor Jones.
Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement calling the burning a ‘crime against a religion’.
He denounced it as a ‘disrespectful and abhorrent act’ and called on the U.S. and the UN to bring to justice those who burned the holy book and issue a response to Muslims around the world.
He also said Mazar-i-Sharif would be one of the first parts of the war-torn country that Afghan security would take from Nato forces.
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