Al-Qaeda casts its shadow over cartoon protests
A statement by a terrorist organisation calls on Muslim governments to withdraw ambassadors and investments from and stop selling oil to countries where the cartoons were printed. Iran and Syria   have an interest in keeping tensions high.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Islamist terrorists are apparently joining Islamic fundamentalists who have sparked demonstrations and attacks against European embassies and institutions as well as European nationals to protest against the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad. And in at least some cases, it seems that governments are using the protest movement for their own purposes.

"Alarmed" by demonstrations getting out of control, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a press release that whilst "he shares the distress felt by many Muslims at the publication of caricatures which they see as insulting to their religion, he wishes to emphasize that such resentment cannot justify violence, least of all when directed at people who have no responsibility for, or control over, the publications in question."

Although there is no proof that religion was behind the murder in Turkey of Fr Andrea Santoro, it is clear that Islamist groups were behind a recent shootout in Afghanistan that left some people dead. In Mehtarlam, the capital of the eastern Afghan province of Laghman, police shot in the air to stop people from pelting a local police station with rocks, then Talebans and al-Qaeda-linked gunmen opened fire killing two people and wounding another two, according to police sources,

In Iraq, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Army announced that it was going to target the countries where the cartoons were published, and urged its "militants to kidnap Danes and 'cut them into as pieces." The group also called "for targeting companies that deal with these countries and any store that sells Danish and Norwegian products". Its statement demanded all Muslim and Arab governments withdraw their ambassadors from these "infidel and God-accursed countries which are openly fighting Islam and our prophet". It also called for the withdrawal of funds and investments, an oil boycott and a ban against their nationals.

As a result of the attacks against the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Lebanon and Syria, Lebanon's interior minister resigned and Syria's Foreign Ministry issued an official statement of "regrets". But whilst the Danish government urged its citizens to leave both countries, in Lebanon the highlight is on the fact that 76 of the 192 people arrested for torching the Danish embassy were Syrian.

In an already tense situation between the two countries due to the involvement of Syrian leaders in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese government said it considered the attack a "provocation" and accused Syria of arms trafficking and people smuggling. Lebanese diplomatic sources are speculating that Syria and Iran might be interested in raising international tensions to divert attention from other issues in which they are involved.

Meanwhile, Damascus received with full honours Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who led several open revolts against Iraq's current authorities.

The wave of protest seems to be sweeping everyone everywhere. In Jordan, the editors-in-chief of al-Mehwar and Shihane have been arrested. The two publications they led were the only ones in the Muslim world to publish some of the cartoons.