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Former Italian Legislator Sparks Muslim Anger, Threats


A former Italian minister who made controversial T-shirts emblazoned with cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed says it is an honor to be hated by al-Qaida. His words followed the latest call by the deputy leader of the terror organization to launch attacks against the West.

Former Italian Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli said it is an honor to be threatened by al Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri and criminals like him who exploit religion for political ends.

His words followed an audio message allegedly by Zawahiri posted on the Internet, Saturday, in which he urged more attacks against the West, and mentioned the former minister. Zawahiri's mention of the former minister was in connection with a T-shirt he wore on television lampooning the Prophet Mohammed.

That incident sparked outrage in the Islamic world, including riots in Libya, in which 11 people were killed. Calderoli was forced to resign on February 18.

On Sunday, the former minister declared he had not intended to offend Muslims, but to defend the right to different ideas. He said he was to be interviewed on the Arabic television network Al-Jazeera to explain that his party, the Northern League, is against those who use religion as a false pretext for other purposes. He says, when religion is used to rally masses of people who have problems of survival and live in difficult conditions, "it is clear that we find ourselves in front of criminals and terrorists."

Calderoli also made a personal attack on Zawahiri, saying the militant knows nothing about him and his ideas, so he has no right to pass judgments. He says that someone who masterminds massacres of innocent civilians and sends young people to their deaths as suicide attackers is a terrorist and nothing more than a terrorist.

Al Jazeera said it hopes that the interview with Calderoli, which should be broadcast next week, will help ease the tension caused by the offensive cartoons, which have led to strong protests in the Muslim world. It says it hopes the former Italian minister will clarify his position and send a conciliatory message to its audience.