Sweden faces global fury after Koran burning stunt


Dozens of Iraqi protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad today over the burning of a Koran by an Iraqi protester in Stockholm.

Video showed an angry mob breaking through an iron gate and climbing on top of the compound, as global fury grew over the stunt.

It came after several Muslim countries condemned Sweden for allowing the Iraqi man to burn a Koran outside Stockholm’s main mosque on Wednesday – during the Eid al-Adha holiday and the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Under a heavy police presence and in front of a crowd of 200, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old who fled to Sweden several years ago, put bacon in the pages of a Koran before stomping on it and setting several pages alight.

Police had granted him a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections after an appeals court rejected their ban on Koran burning protests, but said later the man had been charged with agitation against an ethnic or national group.

The stunt sparked anger across the Muslim world, including in Turkey which is currently blocking Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance, while in Iraq demonstrators stormed inside the Swedish embassy in the capital of Baghdad.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE joined in the chorus of condemnation, with the US also calling the protest ‘disrespectful and hurtful’.

Dozens of Iraqi protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad today over the burning of a Koran by Salwan Momika - an Iraqi protester in Stockholm - on Wednesday

Dozens of Iraqi protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad today over the burning of a Koran by Salwan Momika – an Iraqi protester in Stockholm – on Wednesday

In response to Momika's stunt, video showed an angry mob breaking through an iron gate and climbing on top of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, as global fury grows over the stunt.

In response to Momika's stunt, video showed an angry mob breaking through an iron gate and climbing on top of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, as global fury grows over the stunt.

In response to Momika’s stunt, video showed an angry mob breaking through an iron gate and climbing on top of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, as global fury grows over the stunt.

Protesters try to burn a banner with the LGBTQ flag near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad

Protesters try to burn a banner with the LGBTQ flag near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad

Protesters gather at the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 29

Protesters gather at the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 29

Protesters gather at the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq a day after a protester burned a copy of the Quran in Sweden, June 29

Protesters gather at the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq a day after a protester burned a copy of the Quran in Sweden, June 29

Protesters gather at the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 29

Protesters gather at the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 29

Footage from the compound in Iraq showed people barging through a copper-coloured gate as others climbed over the walls. A second clip showed people climbing on top of the barbed-wire covered building, singing and waving flags.

The protesters first rallied outside the embassy in response to a call by Sadr who demanded the removal of the Swedish ambassador, echoing outrage in several Muslim countries over the Koran burning Wednesday in Stockholm.

The demonstrators also distributed leaflets that carried messages in Arabic and English that said: ‘Our constitution is the Koran. Our leader is Al-Sadr’.

‘Yes, yes to the Koran,’ was also scrawled on the gate leading to the embassy, according to the photographer.

The demonstrators, supporters of firebrand Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr, remained inside for about 15 minutes before leaving peacefully as security forces deployed, a press photographer who witnessed the scenes unfold said. 

Sadr’s supporters also torched rainbow flags that represent the LGBTQ community, after the powerful cleric suggested this would be ‘the best way to provoke’ those who back Koran burnings.

Stockholm’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was ‘well informed about the situation. Our embassy staff are safe.’

Protester Hussein Ali Zeidan, 32, told AFP he came out to ‘support the noble Koran’ and called to revoke Momika’s citizenship as ‘he does not represent Iraq’.

On Wednesday, some 200 onlookers witnessed Momika – one of the two protesters – tearing up pages of a copy of the Koran and wiping his shoes with it before putting bacon in it and setting the book on fire. The other spoke into a megaphone.

Iraqi security forces guard the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad after protesters breached the building briefly over the burning of the Koran by an Iraqi living in Sweden, June 29. The protesters were inside the building for 15 minutes before security forces moved in

Iraqi security forces guard the entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad after protesters breached the building briefly over the burning of the Koran by an Iraqi living in Sweden, June 29. The protesters were inside the building for 15 minutes before security forces moved in

Iraqi security forces guard the graffiti-covered entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad after protesters reportedly breached the building briefly over the burning of the Koran by an Iraqi living in Sweden, on June 29

Iraqi security forces guard the graffiti-covered entrance to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad after protesters reportedly breached the building briefly over the burning of the Koran by an Iraqi living in Sweden, on June 29 

Under a heavy police presence and in front of a crowd of 200, Salwan Momika (pictured), a 37-year-old who fled to Sweden several years ago, put bacon in the pages of a Koran before stomping on it and setting several pages alight

Under a heavy police presence and in front of a crowd of 200, Salwan Momika (pictured), a 37-year-old who fled to Sweden several years ago, put bacon in the pages of a Koran before stomping on it and setting several pages alight

Some of those present shouted ‘God is Great’ in Arabic to protest against the burning, and one man was detained by police after he attempted to throw a rock.

A supporter of the protest shouted ‘let it burn’ as the holy book caught fire.

While Swedish police have rejected several recent applications for anti-Koran demonstrations, courts have overruled those decisions despite the issues it could cause for Sweden’s NATO bid, saying they infringed on freedom of speech.

Turkey is blocking Sweden’s NATO membership bid due to what it perceives as Stockholm’s failure to crack down on Kurdish groups it considers ‘terrorists.’

A meeting between the countries’ top diplomats is scheduled for July 6 at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, with NATO counterparts pushing for Turkey to grant the green light to Sweden by the time the summit takes place in Lithuania on July 11-12.

In its written decision granting a permit for the protest, Stockholm police said the security risks associated with the burning ‘were not of a nature that could justify, under current laws, a decision to reject the request’.

Momika, 37, who fled to Sweden several years ago, had asked police for permission to burn the holy book ‘to express my opinion about the Koran’.

Ahead of the protest, Momika told news agency TT he also wanted to highlight the importance of freedom of speech.

‘This is democracy. It is in danger if they tell us we can’t do this,’ Momika said.

Police later said in a statement that the protest (pictured) had not caused 'disturbances to order,' but added that an investigation had been opened regarding 'agitation against an ethnic group' because Momika had chosen to burn the Koran near a mosque

Police later said in a statement that the protest (pictured) had not caused ‘disturbances to order,’ but added that an investigation had been opened regarding ‘agitation against an ethnic group’ because Momika had chosen to burn the Koran near a mosque

Salwan Momika is seen on Wednesday holding up a smoking Koran during his stunt

Salwan Momika is seen on Wednesday holding up a smoking Koran during his stunt

Police had cordoned off an area in a park next to the mosque separating Momika and a co-protester from the crowd. One man was understood to have been taken away from the scene when he was caught carrying a rock.

Police later said in a statement that the protest had not caused ‘disturbances to order,’ but added that an investigation had been opened regarding ‘agitation against an ethnic group’ because Momika had chosen to burn the Koran near a mosque.

Police added he was also being investigated for violating a temporary ban on lighting fires – in place due to a heatwave.

Noa Omran, a 32-year-old artist from Stockholm, called the protest ‘insane’.

‘It’s just hatred masquerading in the name of democracy and freedom, which it isn’t,’ the woman, who said her mother was from a Muslim background, said at the scene.

The police authorisation for the protest came two weeks after a Swedish appeals court rejected the police’s decision to deny permits for two demonstrations in Stockholm which were to include Koran burnings.

Police had at the time cited security concerns, following the January protest which led to weeks of demonstrations and calls for a boycott of Swedish goods.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a press conference on Wednesday he would not speculate about how the protest could affect Sweden’s NATO process.

‘It’s legal but not appropriate,’ he said, adding that it was up to the police to make decisions on Koran burnings.

Representatives of the mosque were disappointed by the police decision to grant permission for the protest on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, mosque director and Imam Mahmoud Khalfi said on Wednesday.

‘The mosque suggested to the police to at least divert the demonstration to another location, which is possible by law, but they chose not to do so,’ Khalfi said.

Police had granted Salwan Momika (right) a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections after an appeals court rejected their ban on Koran burning protests, but said later the man had been charged with agitation against an ethnic or national group

Police had granted Salwan Momika (right) a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections after an appeals court rejected their ban on Koran burning protests, but said later the man had been charged with agitation against an ethnic or national group

Police had cordoned off an area in a park next to the mosque separating Momika and a co-protester from the crowd. One man was understood to have been taken away from the scene when he was caught carrying a rock. Pictured: Police are seen detaining a man at the scene

Police had cordoned off an area in a park next to the mosque separating Momika and a co-protester from the crowd. One man was understood to have been taken away from the scene when he was caught carrying a rock. Pictured: Police are seen detaining a man at the scene

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Sweden for allowing the protest, further clouding the Nordic nation’s chances of quickly joining NATO.

‘We will eventually teach the arrogant Westerners that insulting Muslims is not freedom of thought,’ Erdogan said in televised remarks.

‘We will show our reaction in the strongest possible terms, until a determined victory against terrorist organisations and Islamophobia is achieved.’

Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan had called the burning of the pages of the Islamic holy book ‘despicable.’

‘It is unacceptable to allow these anti-Islamic actions under the pretext of freedom of expression,’ Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan wrote on Twitter. ‘Turning a blind eye to such atrocious acts is to be complicit.’

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, called the Koran burning a ‘disgraceful act provoking the feelings of Muslims’ as they mark Eid.

The Cairo-based Arab League branded it an ‘assault on the core of our Islamic faith’, and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council also condemned it. 

The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation called for ‘effective measures to prevent a recurrence’.

The Iraqi government also slammed the burning of the Koran, calling it ‘racist’ and ‘irresponsible’, while Morocco recalled its ambassador to Stockholm.

‘This new offensive and irresponsible act disregards the feelings of more than a billion Muslims, at this sacred time of the great pilgrimage to Mecca and the blessed feast of Eid al-Adha,’ Morocco said in a statement.

‘Faced with these repeated provocations, committed under the complacent gaze of the Swedish government’, Morocco summoned Sweden’s charge d’affaires in Rabat and recalled its ambassador, it added.

United Arab Emirates presidential adviser Anwar Gargash tweeted that the West ‘must realise that its value system… cannot be imposed on the world’.

The foreign ministry in Abu Dhabi summoned the Swedish ambassador to protest the free-speech protections given to ‘such heinous acts’, it said on Thursday.

Kuwait said perpetrators of ‘hostile acts’ must be brought to justice and ‘prevented from using the principle of freedoms as a ploy to justify hostility against Islam or any holy faith’.

Bahrain said that ‘insulting religions is inconsistent with religious freedom… and generates hatred, extremism and violence’.

The stunt (pictured) sparked anger across the Muslim world, including in Turkey which is currently blocking Sweden's bid to join the NATO military alliance

The stunt (pictured) sparked anger across the Muslim world, including in Turkey which is currently blocking Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance

Police had granted Momika (right) a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections after an appeals court rejected their ban on Koran burning protests, but said later the man had been charged with agitation against an ethnic or national group

Police had granted Momika (right) a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections after an appeals court rejected their ban on Koran burning protests, but said later the man had been charged with agitation against an ethnic or national group

Iran joined in the condemnation on Thursday, calling the Koran burning ‘provocative, ill-considered and unacceptable’.

‘The government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran… do not tolerate such an insult and strongly condemn it,’ said foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani.

‘The Swedish government is expected to seriously consider the principle of responsibility and accountability in this regard, while preventing the repetition of insulting the holy sanctities,’ he added.

Jordan also issued a statement on Wednesday, saying it was a dangerous display of hatred and Islamophobia that cannot be justified as freedom of expression.

The United States, the largest power in NATO, joined criticism of the Koran burning but reiterated its support for Sweden’s entrance into the alliance.

‘We’ve said consistently that the burning of religious texts is disrespectful and hurtful and what might be legal is certainly not necessarily appropriate,’ State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington.

‘We continue to believe that Sweden should become a NATO member as soon as possible,’ he said, calling the country a ‘strong, capable defence partner that shares NATO’s values.’

Wednesday was not the first time a Koran has been burned in a public protest this year. In January, far-right Danish political party politician Stram Kurs Rasmus Paludan burned the religious book outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Police during a protest where a koran was burned at the Stockholm mosque on June 28

Police during a protest where a koran was burned at the Stockholm mosque on June 28

Police during a protest where a koran was burned at the Stockholm mosque on June 28

Police during a protest where a koran was burned at the Stockholm mosque on June 28

The move angered Ankara then too, which is already using its grievances with Stockholm and its government to continue to block Sweden’s ascension to NATO.

Speaking to newspaper Aftonbladet in April, Momika said his intention was not to sabotage Sweden’s NATO bid and that he had considered waiting to stage his protest until after the country had joined the alliance.

‘I don’t want to harm this country that received me and preserved my dignity,’ Momika told the newspaper.

Up to 10,000 visitors attend Stockholm’s mosque for Eid celebrations every year, according to Khalfi.



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