Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt Monday welcomed the condemnation by Swedish Muslim organizations against a death threat issued over the weekend against a Swedish artist and editor of a newspaper that a month ago printed a caricature of Islam's Prophet Mohammed depicted as a dog.
The threat was issued Saturday by the leader of the al-Qaeda- linked Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgency group held responsible for several acts of violence, that put a 100,000 dollars reward on the head of Swedish artist Lars Vilks.
"We take this very seriously," Reinfeldt said on Swedish television Monday, adding that he was aware what importance people attached to matters of faith and religion.
Reinfeldt repeated his message of the need for dialogue and tolerance, noting that Sweden has 400,000 Muslims, and that Christians and Muslims live peacefully side by side.
He recently met with some 20 ambassadors from Muslim countries where they discussed freedom of speech and that of religion, and has also visited the main mosque in Stockholm.
The 30-minute audio statement that called for "spilling the blood of the cartoonist who dared to denigrate the prophet's position," was carried by the Islamist al-Hesbah website on Saturday.
It was attributed to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic group in the Abu Ghraib area.
Al-Baghdadi also put a price on the head of Ulf Johansson, the editor-in-chief of the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda where the cartoon was published August 19.
The Muslim Council of Sweden said it "strongly rejects and condemns threats against individuals and Swedish institutions."
Helena Benauoda, head of the umbrella organization that claims some 100,000 members, told Swedish media that the threats against Vilks and Johansson violated the spirit of Ramadan, Islam's month of fasting.
The European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) that comprises Islamic clerics and scholars was preparing a counter-fatwa condemning the death threat, Swedish radio said.
"We don't agree with what al-Qaeda said," General Secretary Hussein Mohammed Halawa of the Dublin-based foundation said, adding the threat was against Islam.
Vilks on Sunday returned to Sweden after a visit to Germany. He said he was in regular contact with Swedish police who have stepped up security.
The Islamic State of Iraq is an umbrella organization for al-Qaeda militant groups in the war-ravaged country.
The Nerikes Allehanda publication sparked criticism from Muslims and others in and beyond Sweden. The newspaper has since published an English and Arabic translation of the editorial under the headline "The Right to Ridicule a Religion."
Stockholm is anxious to avoid a crisis of the magnitude sparked when a newspaper in neighbouring Denmark published 12 caricatures of Mohammed in 2005.
That publication later triggered angry protests in many Muslim countries in January and February 2006, including attacks on Danish embassies. dpa lsm fs