BAGHDAD — An Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush was being held for questioning by the Iraqi prime minister's guards, an official said Monday, as Arabs across the Middle East hailed the incident as a proper send-off to the unpopular U.S. president.
Muntadar al-Zeidi was being interrogated over whether anybody paid him to throw his shoes at Bush during a press conference Sunday in Baghdad and was being tested for alcohol and drugs, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Al-Zeidi's colleagues said the journalist was kidnapped last year by Shiite militias and released after his TV station, Al-Baghdadia, intervened.
The Shiite journalist, who is in his late 20s, was being held at the headquarters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the official. His shoes were being held as evidence, he added.
Al-Baghdadia repeatedly aired pleas to release al-Zeidi on Monday, while showing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the U.S. in Iraq.
"We have all been mobilized to work on releasing him, and all the organizations around the world are with us," said Abdel-Hameed al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, where the station is based. "This whole thing is putting the Iraqis and the Americans to a test. Are they going to release him or try him?"
Called a 'hero'
Al-Jazeera television interviewed Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi, who offered to defend al-Zeidi, calling him a "hero."
Al-Jazeera and many other Arab satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident Monday. Al-Zeidi leapt from his chair as Bush and al-Maliki were about to shake hands Sunday and hurled his shoes at the president, who was about 20 feet away.
"This is a farewell kiss, you dog," he yelled in Arabic. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."
Al-Zeidi was immediately wrestled to the ground by Iraqi security guards.
Many other Arab journalists and commentators, fed up with U.S. policy in the Middle East and Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam, echoed al-Zeidi's sentiments Monday.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, wrote on the newspaper's Web site that the incident was "a proper goodbye for a war criminal."
Beyond extreme disrespect
Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is a sign of extreme disrespect, and striking someone with them is even worse.
"This great Arab shoe sums up the history of the criminal Bush, who is responsible for the loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of Islamic sons and who remained arrogant, spiteful and mean-spirited until the last moment of his term," wrote Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a political science professor at An Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus, on a Palestinian Web site.
Thousands took to the streets Monday in Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City, where supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned American flags to protest against Bush and called for the release of al-Zeidi.
"Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head," the protesters chanted.
Ghufran al-Saidi, a Shiite lawmaker from al-Sadr's bloc, told AP that she was demanding the immediate release of al-Zeidi.
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