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Middle Eastern Islamic leaders push followers to engage in holy war

CAIRO, Egypt—Calls for holy war rang out across the Middle East on Friday and thousands massed in protest, though governments avoided a repeat of the fierce and bloody riots that resulted in deaths last week following traditional Islamic prayers.

Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iraq appealed to Allah in anger at the U.S.-led attack on Iraq and encouraged their followers to engage in holy war. The governments of Egypt, Jordan and Iran all sanctioned protests.

In Jordan, the preacher Sheik Zeid Kilani compared Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Saladin, the great Islamic warrior against the Crusaders.

"This battle has forced Saddam to return to God," the sheik said.

Some of the weekly sermons could be interpreted as advocating self-defense in the face of what many here see as disproportionate military aggression. But others addresses were clearly intended to incite attacks.

Arabic-language television stations, which broadcast via satellite throughout the world, picked up the remarks of Iraqi clerics who implored Muslims in the United States and Great Britain to raise the banner of jihad in those countries and to target everything from gas stations to airports.

The language in the mosques, which are closely linked to state governments, reflected how incendiary the region has become amid round-the-clock TV coverage of military strikes in Iraq featuring close-ups of children hit by shrapnel.

Among government-sanctioned protests, Egypt's was the calmest, thanks to cooperation between the ruling National Democratic Party and its parliamentary opposition. "Any political party can participate in the demo today," said Ahmed Idrees, a local party official. "We mean to announce our opposition to American aggression."

The Egyptian protest drew between 5,000 and 10,000, many bearing preprinted, multilingual placards, neatly lettered banners and red paper crowns, all emblazoned with antiwar slogans. The signs appealed to Allah, urged a boycott of American products, requested aid for Iraqi and Palestinian victims, and celebrated the "resistance," the Arabic word used to describe fighters in Iraq and Palestine.


Posters showed caricatures of President Bush as a naked barbarian swaddled in the American flag and as a child-slaughtering crusader.

After prayers, the crowd was steered to a hilltop cemetery and garden, far from vulnerable shops downtown. A few protestors complained that the organizers had placed too many restrictions on them, including a prohibition on chants critical of the Mubarak government. "I can't say what I want," said Maha Abu Bakr, a 24-year-old lawyer. "You have to repeat the same slogans."

While Cairo's many well-equipped riot police had no reason to raise their shields or fire their water cannons, a demonstration in Teheran by tens of thousands of Iranians degenerated into rock throwing outside the British embassy. In Jordan, police used clubs and tear gas to control a crowd of about 5,000 after prayers at the King Hussein mosque in Amman.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Tehran, Iran, and Nancy A. Youssef in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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