Experts and Army Meet to Discuss Muslim Concerns

KOBLENZ – The Civic Education Centre (Zentrum Innere F_hrung) of the German Armed Forces, Catholic and Evangelical camp priests, the women’s commissioners and the deputy chairman of the Central Council of the Muslims in Germany held a discussion in Koblenz. Among the topics were the appointment of a “camp imam” for the religious support of Muslims in the army, the preparation of soldiers for duty in Afghanistan, and the insufficient attention paid to Muslim women’s issues in the ongoing official integration discourse.

Legoland Is Burning

By Anna Reimann in Copenhagen While Danish flags are being burned and embassies attacked in Islamic countries, Muslim immigrants and Danes are coming closer together. Following the intense international scrutiny over Muhammad caricature affair, many are hoping to send the world a message of peace. Many people in Copenhagen find it difficult to understand why their small country has suddenly become the center of global attention. “I would never have imagined that this would create such an uproar. The Mohammad cartoons are now the only topic of conversation, even in Denmark,” says 50-year-old Knut M. as he stands at a sausage stand in Copenhagen, rubbing his hands together in the cold. It’s raining in the Danish capital and the wind howls through the narrow streets in the neighborhood near Copenhagen’s main train station. The TV images flickering behind the windows of apartment buildings show Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the building housing the editorial offices of Jyllands-Posten and scenes of angry Muslims in Afghanistan. On a newspaper stand in front of a kiosk, the cover of B.T. paper depicts a young girl asking her father: “Why do the Muslims hate us so much?” The Danes are afraid, writes the paper, afraid of attacks and afraid of war. Until now, this small Scandinavian kingdom in northern Europe enjoyed a tranquil, happy and untroubled existence. Lego used to be the country’s biggest claim to international fame, but Legoland has apparently burned down. In the Islamic world, the response to the cartoons printed in Jyllands-Posten depicting Muhammad might have been blown out of proportion, but they have been interpreted as a general assault on the honor of Islam. People in Copenhagen, however, are speechless over the reactions they have triggered worldwide. Arab shops line Vesterbrogade, a main street in downtown Copenhagen. Muhammad, who, like many of the foreigners here, prefers not to give his surname, runs a travel agency specializing in travel to North Africa and the Middle East. “Denmark has never experienced anything like this,” he says. Wearing a long black coat, he sits in front of a wall of travel brochures. “The whole thing makes me very uncomfortable. Why should they ruin everything? We’re such a peaceful country,” he says. For Muhammad, “they” are both the people who deliberately offend religious sensibilities and those who resort to violence, attacking Danish embassies and burning flags. “It hurts me,” he says. He might as well take down the light blue flyers in his window advertising tours to Damascus and Beirut, he says. He’s hardly sold a ticket in days. “I’m just waiting for all the excitement to blow over.” Tired of the dispute Denmark, a small country of only 5.3 million inhabitants, has been the center of global attention for the past two weeks. But many Danes are weary of the debate over the cartoons. After all, they say, Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s largest-circulation newspaper, published the now-scandalous cartoons back in September 2005. Mefid, a 22-year-old taxi driver with a shaved head, doesn’t want to talk about the cartoons anymore. “You know, here in Denmark we’ve been talking about this for almost half a year now. Up and down, back and forth. And now, all of the sudden, the rest of the world has noticed us,” says Mefid, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants. Mefid has harsh words for the violence in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. What’s happening there, he says, is a disgrace. “I apologize for the radical Muslims,” he says. Then, after a brief pause, he adds: “No one has the right to do these things.” Ali, whose family emigrated to Denmark from Afghanistan, is also ashamed of the fact that Danish interests are being attacked, flags burned and foreigners in Arab countries threatened, all in the name of his religion. He sits, smoking, with a Danish friend on a bench in front of a shopping center and says: “I’m shocked by the images.” His friend nods. Nevertheless, Ali, like many other residents of Copenhagen, believes that Jyllands-Posten printed the cartoons “because they wanted to provoke.” “Why else wouldn’t Jyllands-Posten have printed the Jesus cartoon?” asks Mikkel Velstrup, sitting with friends in a Copenhagen caf_. He’s referring to a series of cartoons depicting Jesus that an illustrator offered the paper in 2003, but that an editor rejected on the grounds that readers probably wouldn’t like them. “Something isn’t quite right there,” says Mikkel Velstrup. But, he adds, he has also noticed that people have been especially courteous to one another in Denmark lately — Pakistanis, Turks, Afghans and Danes — Christians and Muslims. “They were all lies” “It was tasteless, the fact that the papers printed them,” says Muhammad, the man from the travel agency. “Especially these days, when the populist, right-wing People’s Party is so strong and is already trying to stir up bad feelings about Muslims.” Knut M. also hopes that the affair doesn’t produce the wrong impression about Danish Muslims. “After all,” he says, “most Muslims who live here are very moderate.” He has absolutely no sympathy for people like Ahmed Akkari, an imam in the central Danish city of Aarhus, who has only added to the controversy over the cartoons. “He traveled to the Middle East and showed people the wrong cartoons, cartoons that were far worse. They were all lies,” explains Knut M. But there aren’t many of “those kinds of Muslims” in Copenhagen, he adds. But Knut M. is convinced that in Denmark, at least, the cartoon affair could have a positive outcome once all the excitement subsides: “Perhaps we’ll talk with one another more — immigrants and Danes.” He disapproves of the fact that Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen long refused to meet with ambassadors from Muslim countries. “I don’t want to question freedom of the press, but when the feelings of a religious community are hurt, we have to talk to one another and communicate,” he said. Knut M. believes that the recent demonstration against violence and in favor of dialogue on the square in front of Copenhagen’s city hall shows that the only thing everyone here wants is peace. “And just a bit of normality once again.”

Denmark: Iran Rejects Rice Claim It Is Inflaming Muslim Prophet Row

JAKARTA, Indonesia – An Iranian vice president on Thursday rejected a US contention that his country was fanning Muslim anger over the Prophet Mohammad cartoons, while a newspaper in Malaysia faced closure for printing one of the images. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments that have produced violent protests across the Muslim world against publication of the caricatures. That is 100 percent a lie, Isfandiar Rahim Mashaee, one of several Iranian vice presidents, told reporters during a visit to Indonesia. It is without attribution. The demonstrations – directed mostly at the foreign missions of Denmark, where the cartoons were first published – turned deadly this week in Afghanistan, where nine people have been fatally shot in clashes between demonstrators and security forces. The images – including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb – have been reprinted in mostly Western media. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the prophet. In Muslim-majority Malaysia, a newspaper that published printed one of the caricatures said it expected its printing license to be suspended by the government, while police launched an investigation over the issue. The Sarawak Press newspaper group has faced relentless public criticism despite apologizing for what it says was an editorial oversight that led to the publication of the caricature in its Sarawak Tribune last Saturday. We may not have publication of the newspaper by tomorrow, Sarawak Press executive director Polit Hamzah told The Associated Press on Thursday. Police questioned the editor who authorized the cartoon’s publication for two hours on Thursday and were examining whether the paper’s management broke any laws, the national news agency, Bernama, cited Sarawak’s police chief Talib Jamal as saying. The editor, Lester Melanyi, resigned over the controversy. In his first comments on the row, US President George W. Bush on Wednesday condemned deadly rioting in Afghanistan and urged foreign leaders to halt the violence and protect diplomats in besieged embassies. Police killed four people Wednesday as Afghans enraged over prophet drawings marched on a US military base in a volatile southern province. Five others were killed in protests earlier this week in Afghanistan. The US base was targeted because the United States is the leading infidel in the world, said Sher Mohammed, a 40-year-old farmer who suffered a gunshot wound while taking part in the demonstration in the city of Qalat. They are all the enemy of Islam. US officials say they are looking into whether extremist groups may be inciting protesters to riot. Zahor Afghan, editor for Erada, Afghanistan’s most respected newspaper, said the riots in his country have surprised him. No media in Afghanistan has published or broadcast pictures of these cartoons. The radio has been reporting on it, but there are definitely people using this to incite violence against the presence of foreigners in Afghanistan, he said. Afghanistan’s top Islamic organization, the Ulama Council, urged an end to the violence.

Denmark: Rage Over Cartoons Perplexes Denmark; Reaction To Drawings Of Muhammad Forces The Nation To Examine Its Self-Image Of Tolerance.

By Jeffrey Fleishman COPENHAGEN – This diminutive nation with an offbeat sense of humor and a strong self-image of cultural tolerance is not accustomed to having its flag burned, embassies stormed and coat of arms pelted with eggs. But Denmark has become a target for the Muslim world’s outrage at cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad. The scope and intensity of the violence ignited by the caricatures, first printed in September by the country’s right-leaning Jyllands-Posten newspaper and reprinted more recently in other Western publications, have left this country bewildered. “A lot of Danes have problems understanding what is going on and why people in those countries reacted this way,” said Morton Rixen, a philosophy student, looking out his window at a city awhirl in angst and snow. “We’re used to seeing American flags and pictures of George Bush being burned, but we’ve always seen ourselves as a more tolerant nation. We’re in shock to now be in the center of this.” On Wednesday, four people were killed and at least 20 wounded in a fresh round of protests in southern Afghanistan, and demonstrators in the West Bank city of Hebron attacked the offices of international observers, forcing their evacuation. President Bush spoke out about the protest for the first time, saying, “We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press.” Danes suspect that the furor over the cartoons has been co-opted by the wider anti-Western agenda of Middle East extremism. Yet they believe the media images of fury over the drawings have cracked the veneer of their nation and exacerbated a debate about immigration, freedom of expression, religious tolerance and a vaunted perception of racial harmony often disputed by immigrants. Denmark is a small portrait of Europe’s struggle to integrate a Muslim population that has doubled since the late-1980s and dotted the continent with head scarves and back-alley mosques. The cartoons were sketched in an atmosphere of rising Muslim discontent, a surge in strength for the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, a commitment to keeping Danish troops in Iraq and the arrests here of suspected militants with reported ties to Al Qaeda. Some worry that anti-immigrant political parties are exploiting the burning of Danish embassies in Lebanon, Syria and Iran to promote a xenophobic agenda. “Racism is suddenly popping up in this country,” said Merete Ronnow, a nurse who worked in Danish relief efforts in Lebanon and Afghanistan. “I’m stunned by this. It’s like now Danes can express exactly what they feel. My colleagues are saying, ‘Look, this is how a Muslim acts. This is what a Muslim does.’ ” Recent polls reveal a country of torn emotions and doubt. The Danish People’s Party has gained 3 percentage points, but so has its nemesis, the Radical Left Party. A newspaper headline this week blamed President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for not supporting Denmark through the ordeal. And nearly 80% of Danes believe a terrorist attack looms. “I don’t know what to do. It’s amazing to see the Danish flag being burned,” said Michael Hansen, an engineer. “It’s not fear, it’s more anxiety. There have been terror attacks in the U.S., Spain and in Britain. We are the logical fourth. If they forgot about us, they’ve remembered now.” Hansen’s roommate, Martin Yhlen, said: “The whole cartoon thing was a ridiculous provocation. The newspaper knew before they published it that people would be extremely upset. You do have freedom of speech, but with that comes a moral obligation. It doesn’t benefit integration in Europe. It widens the divide.” Even Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen seems baffled. “We’re seeing ourselves characterized as intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion. That picture is false,” he said Tuesday during a news conference. “We’re facing a growing global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of governments and other authorities,” he said. “Extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures are spreading it.” […]

German Authorities Close Islamic Center

By STEPHEN GRAHAM BERLIN – Authorities on Wednesday shut down an Islamic center once attended by a man who accuses the CIA of kidnapping him and sending him to a secret Afghan prison to be abused and interrogated. The man’s lawyer has linked the alleged kidnapping to the investigation of extremist activity at the center. The state government of Bavaria said Wednesday it was shutting down the Multi-Kultur-Haus association in the southern town of Neu-Ulm after it seized material urging Muslims to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq. Khaled al-Masri, a Kuwait-born German citizen who is suing the CIA for allegedly spiriting him to Afghanistan for interrogation, has said he visited the center several times before he was snatched. Al-Masri said he was taken while trying to enter Macedonia on New Year’s Eve 2003 and flown to Afghanistan, where he was subjected to “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” during five months in captivity, according to a lawsuit filed in a Virginia federal court. He was flown to Albania in late May 2004 and put on a plane back to Germany, he has said. Al-Masri has said his captors told him he was seized in a case of mistaken identity. His lawyer, however, has suggested that al-Masri was abducted because of his links to the Islamic association, which provided meetings, prayer rooms and other services for local Muslims. “In all interrogations, in Macedonia and Afghanistan, Khaled al-Masri was asked only about the Multi-Kultur-Haus in Ulm, about the people he knew there,” Manfred Gnjidic told Munich’s Abendzeitung newspaper last month. Al-Masri’s case has stoked debate in Germany about how to prevent terrorist attacks while safeguarding civil liberties. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, for instance, is calling for tougher laws so that anyone who has trained in camps in Afghanistan can be prosecuted. In remarks published Wednesday, Uwe Schuenemann, the interior minister of Lower Saxony state, floated a new idea: placing electronic tags on foreign extremists who cannot be deported to their countries of origin because they might be tortured. “That would allow the observation of many of the roughly 3,000 potentially violent Islamists, hate preachers and fighters trained in foreign camps,” Schuenemann was quoted as saying in the daily Die Welt. It was unclear whether federal officials would take up the suggestion. Electronic tags were used in 2000 on a trial basis in one German state with prisoners on parole, but have not been adopted more widely. Al-Masri claims U.S. agents questioned him about associates including his friend Reda Seyam, an Egypt-born German citizen under investigation by German federal prosecutors on suspicion of supporting al-Qaida. Al-Masri has denied any connection to terrorism. Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein told The Associated Press on Wednesday that investigators had noticed al-Masri visiting the Multi-Kultur-Haus but called him “rather a marginal figure.” Beckstein’s ministry said the association was promoting extremist ideas and armed “holy war.” Security officials confiscated and searched the association’s premises in Neu-Ulm Wednesday and froze its bank account. There was no mention of arrests or the results of the search.

U.S. Case Against Muslim Scholar Is Religious Attack: Defense

By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The government’s prosecution of a prominent Islamic scholar accused of recruiting for the Taliban in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks is an assault on religious freedom, a defense lawyer said Monday during the trial’s closing arguments. “The government wants you to think Islam is your enemy,” said Edward MacMahon, who represents Ali al-Timimi, 41, of Fairfax. “They want you to dislike him so much because of what he said that you’ll ignore the lack of evidence.” Prosecutors, on the other hand, said al-Timimi is on trial not because of unpopular political or religious views but because he specifically urged his followers to take up arms against U.S. troops just five days after the 9-11 attacks, and because several of them traveled half way around the world with just that intent. “When Tony Soprano says ‘Go whack that guy,’ it’s not protected speech,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, drawing a comparison between al-Timimi and the fictional mob boss. Al-Timimi, a native-born U.S. citizen who has an international reputation in some Islamic circles, is facing a 10-count indictment that includes charges of soliciting others to levy war against the United States and attempting to aid the Taliban. The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon after hearing two weeks of testimony. If convicted, al-Timimi faces up to life in prison. The government contends that al-Timimi told his followers during a secret meeting on Sept. 16, 2001, that they were obliged as Muslims to defend the Taliban against a looming U.S. invasion. Just days after that meeting, four of those in attendance flew to Pakistan and joined a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba. Three of the four testified at al-Timimi’s trial that their goal had been to obtain military training at the Lashkar camp and then cross the border to Afghanistan and join the Taliban. It was al-Timimi who inspired them to do so, the men testified. None Of The Men Actually Made It To Afghanistan. Kromberg said at the trial’s outset that al-Timimi enjoyed “rock star” status among his followers. On Monday he said al-Timimi knew that the men at the Sept. 16 meeting–many of whom had played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means to train for holy war around the globe–would do as he instructed them. “These guys couldn’t figure out how to tie their shoelaces without al-Timimi,” Kromberg said. But MacMahon said that al-Timimi merely counseled the men to leave the United States because it might be difficult to practice their religion in America in a post-Sept. 11 environment. The three men who testified against al-Timimi at trial, he said, are all lying because they struck plea bargains with the government and are hoping to get their sentences reduced in exchange for helping the government. MacMahon said it was two other men, Yong Ki Kwon and Randall Royer, who were the ones recruiting paintball members to join Lashkar-e-Taiba. Kwon, for instance, admitted that he and Royer had met a LET recruiter in the spring of 2001 on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Kwon also acknowledged that Royer had previously trained in Pakistan with Lashkar and that he had frequently encouraged others to join LET well before Sept. 11 and well before the government alleges al-Timimi’s criminal conduct. MacMahon pointed out to jurors that Kwon–one of the four who allegedly traveled to Pakistan at al-Timimi’s urging–had placed 25 phone calls to the other three in the three days before al-Timimi allegedly made his first exhortation on the Taliban’s behalf. The government’s case, MacMahon said, is built on a misperception that Islam is a sinister religion and its practitioners deserve strict scrutiny. “Are you appalled that the federal government is reading the Quran to you” at this trial? MacMahon asked the jurors. The prosecution of al-Timimi “is a fundamental assault on the liberties we all hold so dear. … If you don’t believe our freedoms are under attack by this prosecution, you haven’t been sitting here.” Kromberg disputed the notion that the government was casting aspersions on all Muslims. “Ali Timimi does not speak for all Muslims. Ali Timimi speaks for his sect of Salafi Muslims,” Kromberg said, referring to a sect of the religion often equated to Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam practiced by many of the leading clerics in Saudi Arabia, where al-Timimi once studied.

Belgian Terror Suspects Lose Appeal

BRUSSELS – Four men condemned in Belgium in connection with terror-related offences on Wednesday failed in a bid to have their sentences reduced. A Brussels court on Wednesday found that one of the men, Tarek Maaroufi, should actually serve a longer sentence than he had originally received and increased the length of time he should spend in prison from six to seven years. Maaroufi was found guilty of helping to acquire forged papers and of recruiting fighters to be trained at a camp in Afghanistan run by the al-Qaeda network.

Terror Suspects Seized In Antwerp And Brussels

Belgian police raided 20 houses in Antwerp, Brussels and Tongres and arrested a number of men suspected of links with Islamic extremist terror groups, the federal prosecutor’s office has confirmed. The men are all suspected of having links with an organisation called the Moroccan Islamic Combatants’ Group (MICG) In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said there was “serious evidence” that north Africans linked to the MICG had received paramilitary training in camps in Afghanistan and were now living in Belgium, several of them with no official residence papers.