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The February 2006 riots following the publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper killed over 100 people and showed the West the danger of offending Muslim sensibilities. New documents obtained by WikiLeaks now show that the Syrian government was actively stoking these flames as a way of frightening its enemies, winning its own credibility in the Muslim world and discouraging the West from promoting democracy in the Middle East.
It was obvious from the beginning that terrorist-sponsoring regimes were trying to promote the outrage. Angry crowds formed in Lebanon, Iran, Gaza City and Damascus that attacked the Danish and Norwegian embassies and burned European flags. As Fox News reported at the time, “few believe the protestors could have pulled off such a brazen act without tacit government consent.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes, and the world ought to call them on it.” Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks now reveal that the riots were more of an instigated event than previously acknowledged and was not a spontaneous outburst of Muslim outrage around the world.
In the days leading up to the large demonstrations in Damascus, the Syrian government ordered the country’s Grand Mufti to “issue a strongly worded directive to the imams delivering Friday sermons in the mosques of Damascus.” Ammar Sahloul, a businessman suspected of being an agent of the Syrian government with close ties to the Grand Mufti, began sending out text messages at this time to organize the demonstrations and played an important role in making them happen.
The documents explain that banners put up in the Rawda Square of Damascus by the demonstrators were “obviously” put up with the Assad regime’s permission, as the security forces had immediately removed other banners such as ones promoting a Muslim-Christian interfaith event in the past because such banners require government approval. The Syrian security forces stood by as the Danish and Norwegian embassies were attacked by the rioters but then intervened to protect the French one, the cable says.
At this time, Iranian state television was describing the publication of the Mohammed cartoons as an insult to Islam by the Danish government. Supreme Leader Khamenei addressed the country to call the cartoons a “Zionist plot” and a top Iranian official said the West had published them to “test” Muslims to see how they’d react. Hezbollah and Hamas likewise told Muslims it was their duty to join the demonstrations and said the punishment for insulting Mohammed is death.
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