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Careless remarks about Prophet Mohammed could cost journalist his life

May 30, 2012, 17:00 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, May 30 (Itar-Tass) —— A Russian journalist’s careless remarks about the Prophet Mohammed, which evoked stormy protests from the Muslim community, may have probably been the root cause of an attempt on his life. Muslim clergy say that true believers have nothing to do with that. Also, they suspect a provocation.

Journalist Sergei Aslanian, a host and commentator of the radio station Mayak, was attacked outside his apartment in southern Moscow late at night. Aslanian, 46, was taken to hospital with multiple stab wounds. At the Sklifosovsky Emergency Aid Institute he underwent an urgent night-time operation. At the moment his condition is satisfactory.

It is already clear that the attack was not accidental. The attacker had figured out Aslanian’s whereabouts in advance, came to his home and then asked him to have a quick word with him outside. In an interview to the portal Life News Aslanian shared the details of the incident. He said an unknown man called his apartment via the intercom and said he would like to talk to him in person. “On the landing I saw an unknown man. He had a Tatar appearance. When I approached him, he attacked me with a knife. He was yelling ‘You are Allah’s enemy!’”

The investigators are considering several versions of the attack. The one involving the journalist’s professional activity is the main one. Aslanian is certain that the attacker was a religious phanatic, who had come to avenge on him for his careless comments about the Prophet Mohammed on the air.

On May 14 Aslanian made some remarks about the Prophet Mohammed the Muslims found openly insulting. In part, he narrated the story of the Prophet’s life in a somewhat frivolous way. The theme of religion was touched upon casually – the journalists were discussing new cars.

Aslanian several days later repented and presented his public apologies for improper utterances. According to his friends, the radio journalist had not complained he was being shadowed or threatened. He believed that the religious conflict had been settled. Now the journalist’s friends and family are afraid his life and their own may be in danger.

The reaction of the Muslim public to Aslanian’s remarks on the air show was angry. On the Internet resources some Muslims called for settling scores with the radio journalist. Aslanian was dubbed “Islamophobe” and the Imam of a mosque in Kazan, the parishioners and the Muslim activists lodged a complaint against the journalist with the Prosecutor-General’s Office.

In his official statement Imam Seidjagfar Lutfullin said: “These insults hurt our religious feelings and run counter to Russian laws, because these statements incite inter-ethnic and inter-religious discord and deeply hurt the feelings of believers, including those of Muslims.”

However, the clergy have been saying that they do not believe Muslims may be responsible for the attack on the journalist.

The Imam of Moscow’s Cathedral Mosque, Ildar Alyautdinov, believes that the attack against Aslanian was by no means an act of revenge for the insult against the Prophet Mohammed, but, certainly, it was “God’s punishment.” “I do not believe that Muslims did it,” he told the Kommersant FM radio station. “I believe, though, Almighty God used the hands of some people to punish that man.”

The chairman of the non-governmental organization Islamic Committee, Geidar Djemal, does not believe any Muslim was responsible. He said that most probably Aslanian was attacked by some personal enemy, who used the current situation to disguise the settlement of old scores as an escapade by Islamic radicals. “My version is the root cause of the attack was the journalist’s business contacts of some sort, which eventually developed into a conflict. The attacker merely used the controversial statements to add some religious flavor to the affair.”

The head of the staff of Tatarstan’s Muslim Board, Rishat Khamidullin, told Kommersant the attack against Aslanian was a provocation. “Why have you decided that there were Muslims involved in the attack. That connection has not been proven. The attack was a provocation. What if some skinheads did that? When we found the journalist’s statement insulting, we complained to the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor-General’s Office.

The attack triggered a wide public response. The Public Chamber has asked the chief of the Investigative Committee’s Moscow office, Vadim Yakovenko, to personally supervise progress in the investigation. As the statement runs, it is too early to say the attack was related with his journalistic activities. However, as the PC commission’s members say, “there are reasons to suspect Aslanian fell victim to one of his public statements.”

The presidium of the Moscow Journalists’ Union expressed its attitude, too. “This incident has evoked an angry response from the entire journalistic community of Moscow,” the statement runs. “The repeated attacks against journalists are forcing the presidium of the Moscow Journalists’ Union to ask Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika and Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev to conduct a thorough investigation and punish those responsible.”

This is not the first case in which mass media allusions to the Prophet Mohammed have caused high-profile excesses. In 2005 the Danish newspaper Jullands-Posten published twelve caricature images of the founder of Islam. A tide of protest demonstrations by Muslims followed. In 2010 four suspects were detained in Denmark and Sweden on charges of preparations for a terrorist attack against the periodical.

Attacks on journalists took place in Moscow before, but they were not related with religion. One of the most outrageous religion-related high-profile crimes occurred in Russia in November 2009. Priest Daniil Sysoyev was gunned down in the Church of Apostle Thomas. He was known for converting Muslims to Orthodoxy and for criticizing Islam in public.