Opinion

Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief

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Firefighters struggle to halt a blaze after a Russian attack using Iranian drones destroyed a Kyiv residential building. (AFP)
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Iranian kamikaze drones ready for launch during a drill in Iran. (AFP)
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Ukrainian military experts show downed drones that Russia allegedly uses for striking critical infrastructure and other targets in Ukraine. (AFP file)
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Updated 22 January 2023

Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief

  • Russia’s use of UAVs shows folly of ignoring warnings about Iranian conventional weapons threat
  • Strategic utility of Shahed-136 lies in the fact it can be mass produced at a relatively low cost

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The distinctive sound of an approaching wave of loitering munitions, commonly known as kamikaze drones, has become all too familiar over the cities of Ukraine since Iran began supplying the Russian military with its domestically designed and manufactured Shahed-136.

With its roughly 2,000 km range and 30 kg explosive payload, these destructive, swarming drones have become an almost daily terror for civilians in the capital Kyiv since September, routinely striking apartment buildings and energy infrastructure.

“The Russian purchase and deployment of Iranian drones has allowed Russia to attack the broad range of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” David DesRoches, a military expert at the US National Defense University, told Arab News.

Designed and built by an Iranian defense manufacturer closely linked to the regime’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Shahed is low-tech compared with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems developed by other nations.

However, their strategic utility lies in the fact that they can be mass produced at a relatively low cost. According to Ukrainian officials, the Russian military has ordered more than 2,000 of these drones and has been in talks to establish a joint manufacturing facility on Russian soil.

A recent report by the Washington Institute also claims the Kremlin has expressed interest in purchasing more advanced Iranian drones, such as the Arash, which has a longer range and can carry a larger explosive payload than the Shahed.




A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP file)

But before Iran’s drones made their debut in the largest and most significant conflict on the European continent since the Second World War, they were battle-tested across multiple fronts in the Middle East where the IRGC and its proxies are active.

Iran has been able to trial its drone technology against US-built air defenses stationed in Iraq and the Arabian Gulf, including the Patriot surface-to-air missile system. Now that know-how is proving invaluable to the Russian military against the Western-backed Ukrainians.

Battle-testing of Iranian drones in Ukraine against Western and Soviet-era air defense systems will undoubtedly also enhance their strategic use in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and beyond, creating new security headaches for Israel and the wider Arab region.




Wreckage of an Iranian kamikaze drone, which was shot down in Odessa on September 25, 2022, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

Kamikaze drones pose a unique problem for modern militaries. Although advanced air defense systems are able to shoot down most Shaheds before they reach their intended target, a sufficient number will inevitably break through, raining down on Ukrainian apartment buildings and civilian infrastructure.

“The drones, which fly below the radar level of conventional air defense radar, are able to penetrate into Ukraine and cause more damage than the Russians would be able to do on their own,” DesRoches said.




Firefighters struggle to halt a blaze after a Russian attack using Iranian drones destroyed a Kyiv residential building. (AFP)

“A distributed drone attack against civilian infrastructure across a large country means that you will never have enough assets to ‘kill’ all the drones. It is far more expensive to defeat a drone than to launch one, and no one has enough equipment to protect every electrical substation in their country.”

He added: “By targeting them at civilian infrastructure, Russia is able to force Ukraine to dissipate its air defense assets and may be able, at some future point, to mass missiles and drones against a significant military target. So their impact has been significant.”

According to some analysts, as a result of prior Western inaction on the proliferation of Iran’s “conventional” weapons, as opposed to its nuclear ambitions, the regime’s kamikaze drones have now been exported to Europe, potentially posing a long-term security threat to the wider continent.

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These analysts say that warnings to Western officials about the threat posed by Iran’s burgeoning drone program long went unheeded, allowing the regime to develop a large manufacturing base and trade network relatively unimpeded.

According to a UK defense intelligence report, published before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, various versions of the Shahed have been covertly deployed by the regime, including in an attack on the British-flagged oil tanker MT Mercer Street in 2021, which killed two, including a British civilian.

Prior to that attack, in September 2019, a volley of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones slammed into the Abqaiq and Khurais oil fields in Saudi Arabia. US Central Command believes the attack originated from Iran, crossing Iraqi airspace.




Wreckage of Iranian weapons used to attack Saudi Arabia's Khurais oil field and Aramco facilities in Abqaiq in 2019 are displayed at a Defense Ministry press conference. (AN file photo)

Following that attack, the American Enterprise Institute urged the US government to retaliate directly against IRGC drone facilities.

“Increasing American economic pressure has not deterred Iranian military or nuclear deal-violation escalation, and American military actions have only changed the precise shape of Iranian military escalation,” it said at the time.

The 2019 attack was also the first known instance of the combined use of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones to target a major energy facility, setting a dangerous precedent that foreshadowed the same tactic’s use in Europe against Ukraine’s power grid.

Western intelligence officials believe the Russian military is growing increasingly reliant on Shaheds as a substitute for more expensive and difficult-to-manufacture long-range precision guided intermediate range missiles, in part due to Western sanctions on Russia’s purchase of crucial electronic components.




This handout picture provided by the Iranian Army on May 28, 2022, shows Iranian military commanders visiting an underground drone base in an unknown location in Iran. (AFP)

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based bipartisan think tank, tweeted that the US and its allies had been “behind the curve” in tackling Iranian drone proliferation.

Although the Biden administration has announced fresh sanctions targeting Iranian arms manufacturers responsible for building Shaheds, Brodsky said the West squandered precious time that could have been spent nipping the Iranian drone threat in the bud.

“Washington and allies should have been laser focused on this a decade ago with respect to Iran. But the nuclear file dominated all,” he said, referring to the now largely defunct 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Omri Ceren, foreign policy adviser to US Senator Ted Cruz, was even more direct in his criticism of the Biden White House — for allowing Iran’s drone proliferation to reach this point and relying on Russia as the go-between with Iran on nuclear negotiations.

He tweeted: “Team Biden has made it a day 1 priority to weaken arms restrictions between Iran and Russia. They rushed to the UN to rescind the arms embargo vs Iran.”




European Union delegates attend talks to revive the Iranian nuclear deal. (AFP file)

Jake Sullivan, the administration’s national security adviser, recently acknowledges that Iran was likely “contributing to widespread war crimes” in Ukraine by actively providing a large number of combat drones and other weapons to the Russian military.

Nevertheless, serious questions remain over whether new sanctions on Iran’s drone manufacturing industry will come too little too late following years of a singular policy focus on reaching a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Lessons provided by Israel, which has perhaps the most experience of neutralizing the Iranian drone threat, could offer US and European policymakers greater clarity, encouraging a more rapid response.

According to the Israeli defense think tank Alma, Iran’s extraterritorial Quds Force has established joint drone production facilities with a secretive division of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, known as Unit 127.




Military drones are displayed at a Hezbollah memorial landmark in the hilltop bastion of Mleeta, near the Lebanese southern village of Jarjouaa. (AFP file)

Satellite imagery provided by Alma shows what appear to be sprawling bases, which reportedly belong to Hezbollah, established in Al-Qusayr, Syria, near the Lebanese border, and in the far eastern Syrian desert city of Palmyra.

A number of airstrikes late last year attributed to Israel (although never officially claimed) directly targeted these bases and suspected joint drone manufacturing centers. Some analysts would like to see the West similarly target Iran’s drone technology at its source.

In the meantime, DesRoches said Ukraine’s Western allies must continue to provide air defense systems, while also helping to reinforce the structural integrity of critical infrastructure to withstand air attacks.

“Instead of starting with the threat and trying to defeat it, a state needs to start with its vulnerabilities and look to protect them, assuming that a drone will get through,” he said.

Hardening key energy facilities and developing a multilayered defensive plan based on this assumption was more realistic in meeting immediate needs in blunting the impact of Iranian drones, he said.

“Soldiers don’t like to think in these ways, and the profit a defense firm will make on sandbags is much less than will be made on a surface to air missile. But national security interests are best served by a vulnerability-based assessment of drone threats.”

It does appear the Biden administration is coming to the realization — belatedly — that Iran’s asymmetric drone capabilities and proliferation have become a global security threat.

 

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Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Updated 29 January 2023

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

RAMALLAH: Israeli guards killed a Palestinian near a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said Sunday, with the Israeli military alleging he was armed.
Karam Ali Ahmad Salman, 18, was shot dead by “the Israeli occupation near the settlement of ‘Kedumim’,” the Palestinian health ministry reported.
Israel’s army said a “civilian security team” shot a person “armed with a handgun” near the settlement in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that Kedumim was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and settlements are regarded as illegal under international law, a charge Israel disputes.
Salman is one of at least 32 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this month, including civilians and militants, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people Friday outside a synagogue in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
In response to the deadly attack, the Israeli government announced a slew of measures including “steps to strengthen settlements.”
The latest violence follows a surge in killings last year.
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to AFP figures.


Sweden tells citizens to avoid crowds in Turkiye after Qur'an burning

Updated 28 January 2023

Sweden tells citizens to avoid crowds in Turkiye after Qur'an burning

  • Last week Turkiye suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications to join NATO
  • "Swedes in Turkiye are asked to stay updated on the development of events and to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations," the foreign ministry said

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s foreign ministry on Saturday warned Swedes in Turkiye to avoid crowds and demonstrations following protests there over the burning of the Qur’an by a far-right politician in Stockholm last week.
Last week Turkiye suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications to join NATO after the protest at which Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, burned a copy of the Qur’an outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
Paludan’s actions have led to demonstrations in a number of Muslim countries as well as in Turkiye.
“Swedes in Turkiye are asked to stay updated on the development of events and to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations,” the foreign ministry said on its advice page for Swedes abroad.
“Continued demonstrations can be expected outside the embassy in Ankara and the consulate general in Istanbul in the coming days.”
After Paludan’s protest, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he supported freedom of speech.
“But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act,” Kristersson said on Twitter.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They need support from all 30 members of the Alliance. Turkiye has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt, in order for it to back NATO membership for the two Nordic countries.


New gun attack in east Jerusalem after synagogue mass shooting

Updated 29 January 2023

New gun attack in east Jerusalem after synagogue mass shooting

  • Police said the suspect was “neutralized” following the latest gun attack in the Silwan neighborhood
  • Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response service identified the victims as two men, aged 47 and 23

JERUSALEM: An assailant shot and wounded two people in east Jerusalem on Saturday, Israeli medics said, hours after a Palestinian gunman killed seven outside a synagogue in one of the deadliest such attacks in years.
Police said the suspect was “neutralized” following the latest gun attack in the Silwan neighborhood, just outside Jerusalem’s old, walled city.
Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response service identified the victims as two men, aged 47 and 23, both with “gunshot wounds to their upper body.” It did not identify those involved.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel's response to an attack by a Palestinian gunman attack that killed seven people on the outskirts of Jerusalem will be "strong, swift and precise" .
Netanyahu made the statement as he convened his security cabinet over Friday's attack. 
Police had earlier announced 42 arrests in connection with Friday’s synagogue attack.
The mass shooting unfolded as a 21-year-old resident of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem drove up to the synagogue in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood and opened fire during the Jewish Sabbath.
The bloodshed, which unfolded on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked another dramatic escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It came a day after one of the deadliest army raids in the occupied West Bank in roughly two decades, as well as rocket fire from militants in the Gaza Strip and Israeli retaliatory air strikes.
There have widespread calls to de-escalate the spiralling violence, but tensions are rising.
Crowds shouted “Death to Arabs” as Netanyahu toured the scene of the synagogue attack late Friday.
Palestinians also held spontaneous rallies to celebrate the killings, in Gaza and across the West Bank, including in Ramallah where large crowds swarmed the streets chanting and waving Palestinian flags.
Several Arab nations that have ties with Israel-- including Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates — condemned the synagogue shooting.
The Lebanese group Hezbollah, one of Israel’s most prominent foes, praised the attack as “heroic,” voicing “absolute support for all the steps taken by the Palestinian resistance factions.”

The gunman at the synagogue was shot dead by police during a shootout that followed a brief car chase after the attack.
There has been no indication that he had prior involvement in militant activity or was a member of an established Palestinian armed group.
“The Jerusalem District Police and border police fighters arrested 42 suspects — some of them from the terrorist’s (immediate) family, relatives and (neighbors),” a police statement said.
“The police will thoroughly examine the connection between each of the arrested suspects and the terrorist who carried out the attack, as well as the extent of their knowledge and/or involvement,” it added.
In a separate statement, police said the force had been placed on the “highest level” of alert following the attack.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians claim the area as the capital of their future state.
Israel’s police chief Kobi Shabtai called the shooting “one of the worst attacks (Israel) has encountered in recent years.”

Nine people had been killed Thursday in what Israel described as a “counter-terrorism” operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
It was one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, of 2000 to 2005.
Israel said Islamic Jihad operatives were the target.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas both vowed to retaliate, later firing several rockets at Israeli territory.
Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defenses. The military responded with strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.
There were no injuries reported on either side, but Gaza’s armed groups vowed further action.
After the synagogue shooting, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack proved “the resistance knows how to find the appropriate response” to Israeli “crimes.”
Washington had announced Thursday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel next week to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he would push for an “end to the cycle of violence.”
A US State Department spokesman confirmed on Friday that the visit would go ahead and said Blinken would discuss “steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions.”
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals

Updated 28 January 2023

Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals

  • Gunman identified as a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who appeared to have acted alone
  • Attack comes amid escalating violence in occupied West Bank, including the shooting of 3 Palestinians by an Israeli land-grabber in Nablus

JERUSALEM: A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside an east Jerusalem synagogue Friday night, killing seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others before he was shot and killed by police, officials said. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in years and raised the likelihood of more bloodshed.
The attack, which occurred as residents were observing the Jewish sabbath, came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine people in the West Bank. The shooting set off celebrations in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where people fired guns into the air, honked horns and distributed sweets.
The burst of violence, which also included a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, has posed an early challenge for Israel’s new government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have pushed for a hard line against Palestinian violence. It also cast a cloud over a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region Sunday.
Addressing reporters at Israel’s national police headquarters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had held a security assessment and decided on “immediate actions.” He said he would convene his Security Cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of the sabbath, to discuss a further response.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) visits the site of an attack in a settler neighborhood of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on Jan. 27, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP) 

Netanyahu declined to elaborate but said Israel would act with “determination and composure.” He called on the public not to take the law into their own hands.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US strongly condemned the attack and was “shocked and saddened by the loss of life,” noting it came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
US officials said later Friday that President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu to offer US support to the government and people of Israel, calling the shootings “an attack against the civilized world.” “The President stressed the iron-clad US commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House said of the call.
Israeli police said the shootings occurred in Neve Yaakov, a neighborhood with a large ultra-Orthodox population, and that the gunman fled in a car. Police said they chased after him and after an exchange of fire, killed him.
Jerusalem police chief Doron Turjeman confirmed seven deaths, in addition to the shooter, and said three people were wounded.
Police identified the attacker as a 21-year-old east Jerusalem resident who apparently acted alone. Turjeman promised an “aggressive and significant” effort to track down anyone who helped him.
Police also released a photo of the pistol it said was used by the attacker.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant huddled with Israel’s military chief and other top security officials and instructed them to assist police and strengthen defenses near Jerusalem and for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Israel’s defense establishment will operate decisively and forcefully against terror and will reach anyone involved in the attack,” Gallant said.
Israel’s MADA rescue service said the dead victims were five men and two women, including several who were 60 or older. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital said a 15-year-old boy was recovering from surgery.

The attack was the deadliest on Israelis since a 2008 shooting killed eight people in a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Ministry. Given the location and timing, it threatened to trigger a tough response from Israel.
Overnight Thursday, Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, with all of them either intercepted or landing in open areas. Israel responded with airstrikes on targets in Gaza. No casualties were reported, and calm had appeared to be taking hold before Friday night’s shooting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group, said the attack was “a revenge and natural response” to the deadly military raid Thursday.
At several locations across the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinians gathered in spontaneous demonstrations to celebrate the Jerusalem attack, with some coming out of dessert shops with large trays of sweets to distribute.
In downtown Gaza City, celebratory gunfire could be heard, as cars honked and calls of “God is great!” wafted from mosque loudspeakers. In various West Bank towns, Palestinians launched fireworks.
The attack escalated tensions that were already heightened following Thursday’s raid in the town of Jenin, where nine people, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman, were killed. It was the deadliest single raid in the West Bank in two decades. A 10th Palestinian was killed in separate fighting near Jerusalem.
Angry Palestinians marched Friday as they buried the last of those killed a day earlier.
Scuffles between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters erupted after the funeral for a 22-year-old Palestinian north of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, but calm prevailed in the contested capital and in the blockaded Gaza Strip for most of the day.

That suddenly dissolved with the east Jerusalem shooting, described as “horrific and heartbreaking” by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and former prime minister.
Neve Yaakov is a religious Jewish settlement that Israel considers to be a neighborhood of its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a capital of their future state.
Blinken’s trip will probably now focus heavily on lowering tensions. He is likely to discuss the underlying causes of the conflict, the agenda of Israel’s new far-right government and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt security coordination with Israel in retaliation for the raid.
The Biden administration has been deeply engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, underscoring the “urgent need here for all parties to deescalate to prevent the further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival forces in 2007.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 2022, making it the deadliest year in those territories since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.


Protests against Qur’an burning held across the Middle East

Updated 27 January 2023

Protests against Qur’an burning held across the Middle East

  • The protests in countries including Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon ended with people dispersing peacefully
  • Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution

BEIRUT: Protests were held Friday in several predominantly Muslim countries to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.
The protests in countries including Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon ended with people dispersing peacefully. In Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, police officers stopped some demonstrators trying to march toward the Swedish Embassy.
About 12,000 Islamists from the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party rallied in Lahore, the capital of the eastern Punjab province to denounce the desecration of the Qur’an in the two European countries. In his speech to the demonstrators, Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, asked the government to lodge a strong protest with Sweden and the Netherlands so that such incidents don’t happen again.
Similar rallies were also held in the southern city of Karachi and in the northwest.
Friday’s rallies dispersed peacefully. However, Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan in recent years has held violent rallies over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s prophet in France and elsewhere in the world.
In the Iranian capital of Tehran, hundreds of people marched after Friday prayers during which they burned a Swedish flag.
In Beirut, about 200 angry protesters burned the flags of Sweden and the Netherlands outside the blue-domed Mohammed Al-Amin mosque at Beirut’s central Martyrs Square.
Earlier this month, Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist from Denmark, received permission from police to stage a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm where he burned the Qur’an.
Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a copy of the Qur’an near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.
The moves angered millions of Muslims around the world and triggered protests.
On Friday, Paludan, who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that he would replicate the protest in front of the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen every Friday until Sweden is admitted into NATO.
Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the Danish ambassador was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry where Turkish officials “strongly condemned the permission given to this provocative act which clearly constitutes a hate crime.”
Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution and gives people extensive rights to express their views publicly, though incitement to violence or hate speech isn’t allowed. Demonstrators must apply to police for a permit for a public gathering. Police can deny such permits only on exceptional grounds, such as risks to public safety.
Iraq’s powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr asked in comments released Friday whether freedom of speech means offending other people’s beliefs. He asked why “doesn’t the burning of the gays’ rainbow flag represent freedom of expression.”
The cleric added that burning the Qur’an “will bring divine anger.”
Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside a mosque in Baghdad waving copies of the Qur’an.