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Sudanese Newspaper Editor Found Beheaded

A Sudanese newspaper editor was found beheaded on the outskirts of Khartoum, Wednesday. In April, 2005, Mohamed Taha was at the center of a firestorm of controversy after his newspaper published an article deemed offensive to the Muslim Prophet Mohamed. Taha's murder has raised questions about the presence of Islamist radicals in Khartoum.

Taha's family say the editor was abducted from outside of his home and shoved into a waiting car. The editor's beheaded body was found in the Kalakla neighborhood, a day later. No one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

Mr. Taha was an ally of Sudan's Islamist government. But he angered many Muslims, last year, after his Al Wifaq newspaper published an article which readers said defamed the Prophet Mohamed. The article is reported to have questioned the Muslim prophet's parentage.

Islamic clerics and hundreds of Sudanese demonstrated outside of the court where Taha stood trial in May, 2005, calling for a sentence of death.

In June, Taha was aquitted on charges of infidelity and his newspaper reopened after three months.

Alfred Taban, editor of the independent Khartoum Monitor newspaper says he fears the murder indicates the presence of extremist groups in Sudan.

"The government has allowed all the extremist groups to operate in this country. It has encouraged them to do whatever things

because they know the government will stand with them," he said. " It is really the government encouraging or not doing anything to subdue radical Islamists groups."

The Sudanese government has found itself besieged by pressures from home and abroad, in recent days.

The nation is under intense pressure to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force into the war-torn Darfur region. Sudan has accused the United Nations and the United States of attempting to overthrow the government.

Last spring, Osama Bin Laden issued a taped message calling on his followers to fight in Darfur if U.N. forces did enter.

The Sudanese government quickly distanced itself from Bin Laden.

At home, opposition parties have staged two demonstrations in the capital, Khartoum, against rising fuel prices in recent days. The government cracked down on the protests, tear-gassing and beating marchers. The violent response to the demonstrations has drawn the ire of many Sudanese.

In recent days, Sudan has also begun arresting political activists and has placed opposition party leaders under house arrest.

Alfred Taban says the beleaguered Sudanese government is sending a message to its opponents.

"It is part of the crackdown. They are sending a message," he said. "The government is now confronting the international community in Darfur. The government is now confronting its own citizens over prices, the recent increases. It needed to send a message: if you play with us this is what you will get."

Sudan has a long history of placing restrictions on independent media.

Independent newspapers have often faced the threat of closure for printing articles contrary to the government position. Journalists and editors report continuing harassment and threats of imprisonment.