Arson attack on publisher of book on Prophet’s wife
Police are holding three suspected terrorists after a weekend arson attack at the London home of the publisher of a novel about the Prophet Mohamed’s child bride.
Two men were arrested by armed police outside the house in Islington, north London, and a third was detained outside a nearby Underground station. The fire was quickly put out after the fire brigade smashed the front door. The publisher, Martin Rynja, 44, was unhurt.
Scotland Yard described the operation as being “intelligence-led”, implying that the gang were being followed by undercover police.
Mr Rynja is director of Gibson Square, an independent publishing house which earlier this month announced it planned to release The Jewel of the Medina in Britain. He could not be contacted yesterday, and is thought to be under police protection.
The novel, by the American author Sherry Jones, was pulled by publishers in the US over fears it would anger Muslims, while a publisher in Serbia withdrew it from the shelves after protests from Islamic leaders, who said it insulted Mohamed and his family.
The three men, aged 22, 30 and 40, were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, and are being questioned at a London police station. Officers also searched four properties in north-east London – two in Walthamstow, one in Ilford and one in Forest Gate.
Announcing the publication of The Jewel of the Medina earlier this month, Mr Rynja said he felt such books were important in a liberal democracy. “If a novel of quality and skill that casts light on a beautiful subject we know too little of in the West, but have a genuine interest in, cannot be published here, it would truly mean that the clock has been turned back to the dark ages. The Jewel of the Medina has become an important barometer of our time,” he said.
In an interview with a German newspaper, the author dismissed the idea that her work – which focuses on the relationship between Mohamed and his wife, Aisha – would provoke a violent response. “To claim that Muslims will answer my book with violence is pure nonsense,” she said.
Her agent, Natasha Kern, said: “There are many misconceptions about this book floating around the internet, including that it is a romance novel or that it focuses on sexual content. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The Metropolitan police said the target of the assassination plot, the Dutch publisher Martin Rynja, had not been injured.
The foiled terrorist attack recalled the death threats and uproar 20 years ago following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and the worldwide protests that followed the publication in a Danish newspaper in 2005 of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam, in which more than 100 people died.
Two of the suspects were arrested in the street outside Rynja’s four-storey townhouse in Lonsdale Square, Islington, while the third was stopped by officers in an armed vehicle near Angel Tube station.
They were being questioned yesterday on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, a spokesman said.
Rynja, 44, could not be contacted yesterday. He is believed to be under police guard.
Yesterday, Natasha Kern, Jones’s agent, said she was shocked to learn of the attack. She said the book had been misinterpreted by its critics and did not contain sex scenes, as had been alleged.
“I honestly believe that if people read the book they will see it is not disrespectful of Muhammad, and moderate Muslims will not be offended. I don’t want anyone to risk their lives but we could never imagine that there would be some madmen who would do something like this. I’m so sad about this act of terrorism. Moderate Muslims will suffer because of a few radicals.”
Kern said it was too early for her to comment on whether the book should be withdrawn. “That’s up to Martin, and I still need to absorb the fact that he was at risk. I’m just so glad he has not been hurt.”
Radical Islamic clerics warn of further attacks after publisher is firebombed
Hardline clerics said that further attacks would be “inevitable” if publication of the novel, The Jewel of Medina, goes ahead as planned next month.
Police moved in to arrest three men moments after a fire broke out at the London home and office of Martin Rynja in the early hours of Saturday.
The attack came days after Mr Rynja’s company, Gibson Square, bought the rights to the book by the American writer Sherry Jones, which has already been likened to Sir Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
The novel, which focuses on the relationship between Mohammed and his child bride Aisha, was recently dropped from publication in the United States by the publishers Random House amid fears that it would anger Muslims.
Mr Rynja, who is described by friends as “taking on projects where others fear to tread” has published several books by controversial authors including Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who was poisoned in London after becoming an outspoken critic of the country’s prime minister and former president Vladimir Putin.
Buying the British and Commonwealth rights to the Sherry Jones novel last week, Mr Rynja described it as a “moving love story”.
But the radical cleric Anjem Choudhary said the book was an insult to the Prophet Mohammed’s honour, something he said would warrant a “death penalty” under Sharia law.
“It is clearly stipulated in Muslim law that any kind of attack on his honour carries the death penalty,” he said.
“People should be aware of the consequences they might face when producing material like this. They should know the depth of feeling it might provoke.”
He denied any involvement in the attack but said he “understood” the feelings of the perpetrators.
“If the publication goes ahead then I think, inevitably, there will be more attacks like this – this is the thin of the wedge,” he said.
Speaking from Lebanon, the radical cleric Omar Bakri, added: “If anybody attacks that man I cannot myself condemn it.”