Qaeda urges cartoonist death, threatens Swedish firms

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DUBAI, Sep 15 (Reuters) The head of an al Qaeda-led group in Iraq has offered a 100,000 dollars reward for the killing of a Swedish cartoonist for his drawing of Islam's Prophet Mohammad and threatened to attack major Swedish companies.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, also offered 50,000 dollars in an audiotape posted on an Islamist Web site today to anyone who killed the editor of the newspaper that published the drawing by Lars Vilks.

Sweden's daily Nerikes Allehanda published the drawing, part of a series which art galleries in Sweden had declined to display, last month.

''From now on we announce the call to shed the blood of the Lars who dared to insult our Prophet... and during this munificent month we announce an award worth 100,000 dollars to the person who kills this infidel criminal,'' he said in the 31-minute tape.

''The award will be increased to 150,000 dollars if he were to be slaughtered like a lamb.

''We know how to force them to withdraw and apologise, and if they don't, they can wait for our strikes on their economy and giant companies such as Ericsson, Volvo, Ikea....'' Contacted by Reuters, Edvard Unsgaard, spokesman for Sweden's prime minister, declined to comment on what he said was ''police business''.

The newspaper published the image, depicting the head of the Prophet on the body of a dog, in what it called a defence of free speech. Muslim countries including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan expressed anger over the caricature.

Iran, the first country to protest against the publication of the drawing on August 27, summoned Sweden's charge d'affaires in Tehran to complain. Muslims believe images of the Prophet are forbidden and also consider dogs to be impure.

The Swedish Muslim Council, one of Sweden's largest Muslim organisations, rejected Baghdadi's threats.

''The Swedish Muslim Council definitely repudiates and at the same time condemns threats against individuals or Swedish institutions. We accept neither crimes nor ethical violations of everyone's right to live in security and to respectful treatment,'' it said in a statement.

Last year, Muslims around the world launched a firestorm of protest after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that were reprinted by other European newspapers.

REUTERS GT BD1839

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