British-based Liveleak.com said it pulled down the video, which can still be seen on other websites, including youtube.com. The film was posted to the internet on Friday.
“Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, Liveleak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove ‘Fitna’ from our servers,” the site said in a statement.
“This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else,” the online statement said.
Wilders said it was “terrible that these threats deal a serious blow to freedom of expression,” but he told Dutch news agency ANP that he understood the decision to withdraw the short film.
“Fitna” features violent imagery of terror attacks in New York and Madrid intertwined with Koranic texts.
In an interview with AFP on Friday, Wilders rejected responsibility for any retaliation against Dutch nationals or interests abroad.
“I hope it doesn’t happen but even if it does the people who commit such acts are responsible, not me,” he said, pointing to a quiet first night in the Netherlands.
Fearing a repeat of violent clashes that followed the publication in 2005 of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in Danish newspapers, the Dutch government has distanced itself from Wilders’ film and Islamic leaders there have called for calm.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday joined Muslim nations in expressing outrage over the film.
Ban called Wilders’ film offensive while Iran and Bangladesh warned it could have grave consequences and Pakistan protested to the Dutch ambassador.
“I condemn in the strongest terms the airing of Geert Wilders’ offensively anti-Islamic film,” Ban said in a statement.
“There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free speech is not at stake here.”
The screening was a calculated “insult to the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world,” according to the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
“The film is a deliberate act of discrimination against Muslims, incitement for hatred and an act of defamation of religions which is solely intended to incite and provoke unrest and intolerance among people of different religious beliefs,” said OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
Morocco’s Communications Minister Khalid Naciri called Wilders “mentally retarded.”
However, an extremist Czech nationalist party said Friday it had posted “Fitna” with Czech subtitles on its website.
“We think it is important to show this film. For Christian Europe, Islam is a greater danger than Nazism. We are trying to show people what this danger is,” National Party spokesman Pavel Sedlacek told AFP.
Abdou Diouf, secretary general of the International Francophone Organisation (OIF), told reporters after meeting Ban at UN headquarters: “I have not seen this film but I am absolutely horrified by such associations” between Islam and terrorism.
“First of all, Islam is not Islamism,” said the former Senegalese president, a practicing Muslim married to a Catholic woman.
“This (film) is confusing Islam and Islamism or confusing Islam and terrorism, and it is completely inadmissible,” he said.
European Muslims were angered by a separate plan by a theatre in Potsdam, Germany to stage the world premiere of a play based on Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses”.
The president of the German Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, told AFP that “the religious sentiments of Muslims are being treated in a provocative manner.”
Iran’s late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa — or religious decree — in 1989 calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie for perceived insults against Islam.
On Wilders, Iran said the 17-minute film showed Westerners were waging a “vendetta” against Islam, and warned of repercussions.
A Jordanian media coalition said it would take Wilders to court and launch a campaign to boycott Dutch products.
In Karachi, Pakistan, about 40 supporters of the hardline Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami staged a protest, chanting “Death to the filmmaker.”
A poll published Friday showed that almost a third of all Dutch people had seen the film or parts of the film — although the TNS Nipo polling institute said fears over reprisals lessened after viewing.
But Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende cautioned against drawing easy conclusions.
“We are not past it yet… Sometimes it can take months before the true repercussions are felt,” he told journalists.