Celebrity Pentecostal preacher Runar Søgaard is under protection by Swedish police after receiving death threats. A high-profile sermon where Søgaard called the prophet Mohammed “a confused pedophile” has triggered fears of religious war.
Søgaard, 37, enjoys celebrity status in Sweden after his marriage to recording star and Eurovision song contest winner Carola, even though they are now divorced.
“Even if I see Runar while he has major police protection I will shoot him to death,” a radical Islamist told Swedish newspaper Expressen.
Persons connected to the Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam claim to have received a fatwa, a decree from a Muslim religious leader, to kill Søgaard.
Muslim organizations have called Søgaard’s sermon, which is on sale on CD at the Stockholm Karisma Center’s web site, a hateful attack on Islam and fear the type of violent conflict that scarred the Netherlands after filmmaker Theo van Gogh was killed by an Islamic extremist for a controversial film.
Islam expert Jan Hjärpe at the University of Lund told Expressen that such an assassination is a real risk, and he wondered if conflict was the motive for the sermon.
“It was a statement from an odd man in an odd sect but the effect is stronger antagonism between different groups. It becomes a pure religious polemic and is extremely unpleasant,” Hjärpe told the newspaper.
Hjärpe saw the incident as a type of beginning of a religious war in Sweden. “It (Søgaard’s sermon) has power and influence. It seems to have been Runar’s intention to provoke and promote antagonism,” Hjärpe said.
Søgaard said he fears for his life and understands that he has angered the wrong people. He received police protection after questioning by Swedish police.
Imam Hassan Moussa, head of Sweden’s imam council, demanded that Christian communities repudiate Søgaard’s remarks, and promised that Sweden would avoid the ugly scenes experienced in Holland.