CAIRO, Egypt — Al-Qaida in Iraq warned Pope Benedict XVI on Monday that its war against Christianity and the West will go on until Islam takes over the world, and Iran’s supreme leader called for more protests over the pontiff’s remarks on Islam.
Protests broke out in South Asia and Indonesia, with angry Muslims saying Benedict’s statement of regret a day earlier did not go far enough. In southern Iraq, demonstrators carrying black flags burned an effigy of the pope.
Islamic leaders around the world issued more condemnations of the pope’s comments, but some moderates in the Middle East appeared to be trying to put a damper on the outrage, fearing it could spiral into attacks on Christians in the region.
The pontiff said on Sunday he was “deeply sorry” Muslims had been offended by his use of a medieval quotation on Islam and holy war. But he stopped short of retracting a speech seen as portraying Islam as a religion tainted by violence.
Benedict said the remarks came from a text that didn’t reflect his own opinion, but he did not retract what he said or say he was sorry he uttered what proved to be explosive words.
Working to defuse situation
The Vatican on Monday sought to defuse the anger, ordering papal representatives around the world to meet with leaders of Muslim countries to explain the pope’s point of view and full context of his speech.
Roman Catholic leaders stepped forward to defend the pontiff. At an Italian bishops conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini underlined the bishops’ “total closeness and solidarity to the pope” and said they deplored interpretations of the pope’s comments “which attribute to the Holy Father ... errors that he has not committed and aim at attacking his person and his ministry.”
Few in the Islamic world were satisfied by Benedict’s statement of regret.
“The pope’s words have caused a deep wound in the hearts of Muslims that won’t heal for a long time, and then only after a clear apology to Muslims,” Egypt’s religious affairs minister, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, wrote in a column in the government daily Al-Ahram on Monday.
An influential Egyptian cleric, Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, called for protests after weekly prayers on Friday but maintained they should be peaceful.
Extremists said the pope’s comments proved that the West was in a war against Islam.
Statement from al-Qaida
Al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies issued a statement addressing the pope as “a cross-worshipper” and warning, “You and the West are doomed, as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere.
“You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad (holy war) and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism, when God’s rule is established governing all people and nations,” said the statement by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups in Iraq.
Another Iraqi extremist group, Ansar al-Sunna, challenged “sleeping Muslims” to prove their manhood by doing something other than “issuing statements or holding demonstrations.”
“If the stupid pig is prancing with his blasphemies in his house,” the group said in a Web statement, referring to the pope, “then let him wait for the day coming soon when the armies of the religion of right knock on the walls of Rome.”
In Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used the comments to call for protests against the United States. He argued that while the pope may have been deceived into making his remarks, the words give the West an “excuse for suppressing Muslims” by depicting them as terrorists.
“Those who benefit from the pope’s comments and drive their own arrogant policies should be targeted with attacks and protests,” he said, referring to the United States.
Recalls cartoon furor
The anger recalled the outrage earlier this year over cartoons depicting the prophet published by a Danish paper. The caricatures, which Muslims saw as insulting Muhammad, set off large, violent protests across the Islamic world.
So far, protests over the pope’s comments have been smaller. However, there has been some violence: Attackers hurled firebombs at seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the weekend, and a nun was shot to death in Somalia.
Some 200 Khamenei loyalists in the Syrian capital, Damascus, held a protest Monday at an Islamic shrine, dismissing the pope’s apology. “The pope’s sorrow was equivocal,” read one banner.
Dozens protested outside the Vatican Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, and schools and shops in the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir shut their doors in protest.
“His comments really hurt Muslims all over the world,” Umar Nawawi of the radical Islamic Defenders’ Front said in Jakarta. “We should remind him not to say such things which can only fuel a holy war.”
Malaysia says apology not enough
Islamic countries also asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to examine the question of religious tolerance. Malaysia’s foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said Benedict’s apology was “inadequate to calm the anger.”
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood said the anger should not be allowed to hurt ties with the Middle East’s Christian minorities. But worries among Christians in the region are high.
Guards have been posted around some churches, and the head of Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, disassociated himself from Benedict’s statements.
The Dominican mission in Cairo also criticized Benedict’s words, saying he chose a text for his speech that “revived the polemics of the past.”
“These comments, seen by many Muslims as hurtful, risk encouraging extremists on all sides,” it said in a statement, “and put in danger all the advances in dialogue made in recent decades.”
U.S. Muslim group counsels need to ‘move on’
In the United States, however, the leader of the largest U.S. Islamnic advocacy organization called for understanding the pope's error, if not accepting it, and the need to move on.
“The pope has now stated that the quote he used does not reflect his opinions about Islam and Muslims, and we have to take his word for it,” said Ibrahim Hooper, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic civil liberies and advocacy organization.
“We want to move on from here and make sure relations aren’t further damaged between Catholics and Muslims worldwide. For many years under the previous pope, relations between Catholics and Muslims were quite strong. We would hate to see anything harm that relationship,” Hooper told MSNBC.com.
The Associated Press and MSNBC.com contributed to this report.