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9/18/06

Al Qaeda threat over pope speech

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNN) -- A personal apology by Pope Benedict XVI failed to quell Muslim fury Monday as protests continued despite pleas for calm from world leaders and Islamic officials.

Between 500 and 1,000 protesters took to the streets of Basra in southern Iraq to condemn the pope's comments, an official at the governor's office said. Effigies of Benedict were burned.

The Basra demonstration came as an al Qaeda linked militant group vowed a war against the "worshippers of the cross" in response to the pope's speech.

"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 an Internet statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group led by Iraq's branch of al Qaeda, according to the Reuters news agency.

"We shall break the cross and spill the wine. ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome. ... God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen," said the statement.

On Sunday the pope said he was "deeply sorry" for the reaction to comments he made last week when he quoted from a 14th-century emperor regarding Muslims.

"These in fact were quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought," he said in his regular Sunday blessing, the Angelus.

The pontiff spoke to a rain-soaked crowd at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence outside Rome, in his first public comments since the controversy erupted last week.

The pope said he hoped his remarks and the Vatican's explanation Saturday were enough to "appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

The remarks came last Tuesday, when the pope spoke to professors in Germany and quoted 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," Benedict quoted.

Reaction from Muslims around the world was strong and swift, prompting Italian police to raise the alert level around the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, a police spokesman said.

Although measures to safeguard sensitive targets have never been relaxed, the spokesman said, "obviously, given the circumstances, the attention level has gone up."

The request to raise the alert level on certain targets came in an internal police memorandum, the spokesman said.

The killing of an Italian nun and her bodyguard Sunday at a children's hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, raised speculation that it was carried out in reaction to the pope's remarks on Islam.

In addition, Palestinian security sources said a church in Tulkarem was attacked Sunday with Molotov cocktails, and there was an attempted attack on a church in Tubas, near Jenin.

Authorities were also investigating Molotov cocktail attacks on three churches in Nablus on Saturday, as well as an attack on a church in Gaza.

Muslim leaders: Benedict's apology falls short

Muslims around the world continued to demand a full apology and said Pope Benedict's words on Sunday did not go far enough.

While the pope's statement was "a good step towards an apology," it "does not elevate to the level of a clear apology to Muslims around the world," said Mohammed el-Sayed Habib, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition group.

The Vatican said it has instructed its ambassadors to the relevant countries to explain the pope's statement, "keeping in mind the elements that have been neglected," said the Vatican's No. 2 official Cardinal Tarciso Bertone.

The pontiff was "very upset that some parts of his speech could have sounded offensive to the sensibility of the Muslim faithful and were interpreted in a way that does not correspond at all to his intentions," Bertone said in a written statement.

That Benedict quoted from Paleologus does not mean the pontiff thinks like him, Bertone said.

Last year, Benedict said in Cologne, Germany, that dialogue between Christians and Muslims "cannot be reduced to a seasonal choice."

"We must find ways to reconcile and learn to live respecting each other's identities," the pope said, according to Bertone.

Before the pope's statement on Sunday, Iraq's foreign ministry issued a statement expressing shock and asking the Vatican's ambassador to Iraq to explain.

Iraq's most powerful religious Shiite party, the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, also posted a statement "strongly condemning" the pope's comments and demanding "a clear and honest apology to Islam from the pope."

They also demanded the Arab League and Islamic states take action, though the statement did not specify what action was needed.

In Iran, demonstrations against the pope's comments took place in several cities, Iranian state television reported.

The Guardian Council in Iran, the constitutional body that examines legislation to be sure it doesn't conflict with the constitution, issued a statement saying, in part, that the statements "emanated from [the] pope's ignorance about Islam."

"[The] pope has linked Islam to violence and challenged Jihad [holy war] at a time when he apparently closed his eyes to the crimes being perpetrated against defenseless Muslims by the leaders of power and hypocrisy under flag of Christianity and Jewish religion," the council statement said.

On Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for Benedict to apologize for his "ugly, unfortunate statements."

The pope is scheduled to visit Turkey in November, where he is to meet with Orthodox Christian leaders. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on Sunday that visit is still on as planned, CNN Turk said.

Last week the Moroccan Foreign Ministry recalled its envoy to the Vatican for consultations in response to the pope's comments. The ministry said King Mohammed VI sent a written message to the pope denouncing his "offending statements."

CNN's Flavia Taggiasco, Hada Messia and Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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