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Cartoon and Koran film part of "Crusader war:" Taliban

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan Taliban militants have branded the reprinting of a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers and a film on the Koran by a Dutch politician as part of a “Crusader war” against Muslims.

Afghan protesters march during a protest in Loger province, March 5, 2008. REUTERS/ Stringer

The Islamic movement, which is leading an insurgency in Afghanistan against Afghan and foreign troops led by NATO and the United States, also called for aid for the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.

“We see the publication of cartoons and insult of the Holy Koran as part of the Crusaders’ war,” the Taliban said in a statement posted on the group’s Web site.

The cartoon -- one of 12 that prompted riots in many Muslim countries in 2006 -- was republished by a number of Danish papers last month to show solidarity with the cartoonist after three men were arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill him.

Many Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet offensive.

Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders is expected to release his film, thought to be critical of the Koran, later this month. Wilders has given few details, but in the past he has called the Koran a “fascist” book that incites violence.

The reprinting of the cartoon and the planned release of the film coincide with recent incursions by Israel into Gaza, where more than 120 Palestinian civilians have been killed.

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The developments have angered many in the Muslim world and prompted a series of protests in Afghanistan, where demonstrators have demanded the expulsion of Danish and Dutch troops serving under NATO’s command.

The largest protest was held on Wednesday, when participants called on the Muslim world to provide arms and funds for the Palestinians. Some even indirectly threatened to join the Taliban insurgents, who were ousted from power in 2001 but remain active in the south and east of the country.

In the statement, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban also asked for help for the Palestinians.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants global institutions who preach democracy and human rights to the people of the world to condemn these atrocities of Israel and bring it to the International Criminal Court,” it said.

Afghanistan’s Western-backed government has called the republication of the cartoon an attack against Islam, and one official has warned it would feed the insurgents.

Several other Islamic countries have demanded that the release of Wilders’ film should be stopped, and Pakistan’s foreign ministry accused the Dutch politician of “propagating the politics of hate and promoting xenophobia”.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Dutch television on Sunday he was concerned about the repercussions Wilders’ plans may have for troops serving in Afghanistan and for Dutch people and businesses elsewhere in the world.

Editing by Alex Richardson