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Honour to be threatened by al Qaeda -Italy ex-min

Written by: Staff

ROME, Mar 5 (Reuters) A former Italian minister who made T-shirts emblazoned with cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad said today he was honoured to be singled out by al Qaeda in its latest call for attacks against the West.

Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri urged Muslims to launch strikes like those against New York, London and Madrid in an audio recording posted on the Internet yesterday.

In the message, he specifically pointed to Italy's former Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, whose inflammatory T-shirts cost him his cabinet post and have been partly blamed for deadly riots outside an Italian consulate in eastern Libya.

''And then there is this Italian minister who wore a shirt with these criminal pictures (cartoons of Prophet Mohammad),'' Zawahri said.

''All of this is considered the right of the West which occupies our land, violates our sanctities and then defames our Prophet.'' Calderoli, of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, said the harsh words pleased him and that he was happy to irritate al Qaeda with the T-shirts, which he has worn on Italian television.

''To be (verbally) attacked by Zawahri and these criminals that exploit religion for political ends is, for me, an honour,'' Calderoli said, in comments widely published in Italian media.

Calderoli is being investigated by Rome magistrates for ''offending religious faiths through public insult'', a crime punishable with a fine of up to 6,012 dollars.

It was the second time in the past week that Calderoli has expressed appreciation for derogatory remarks about him.

After Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi called him a ''fascist minister'' who used ''racist and despicable language'', Calderoli responded: ''I should thank Gaddafi twice. To be insulted by this kind of person is a big honour to me''.

The February 17 riots in Benghazi, which Gaddafi said were inspired by ''hate'' for Italy as a former colonial ruler, killed at least 11 people and injured more than 60 others.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a strong US ally who sent troops to Iraq after the fall of Baghdad, has sought to downplay any added security risk to Italy as a result of the T-shirt controversy.

After forcing Calderoli to resign, Berlusconi said last month he was ''acting in such a way to prevent our country being a particular target.'' REUTERS CH KP2022

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