Hasan Suroor

LONDON: British Government on Wednesday tried to shrug off a threat by Al-Qaeda that it would “punish” Britain for granting knighthood to Salman Rushdie.

In a chilling warning, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osma bin Laden’s deputy, warned that his group was planning a “very precise response” to the British Government’s decision to honour the author of The Satanic Verses which Muslims regard as “blasphemous”.

Address to Brown

The warning was contained in a 20-minute taped speech, entitled “Malicious Britain and its Indian Slaves”, posted on a jihadi Arabic website.

Addressing Prime Minister Gordon Brown directly, he said that if he had not learnt the “lesson” from the previous attacks, Al-Qaeda was “ready to repeat it”.

Describing the knighthood to Mr. Rushdie (now Sir Salman) as an “insult” to Islam, Zawahiri said: “I say to Blair’s successor that the policy of your predecessor drew catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq and even in the centre of London…. If you did not learn the lesson then we are ready to repeat it, God willing, until we are sure you have fully understood.”

The warning came as Britain was still recovering from the shock of the June 29-30 failed attacks in London and Glasgow and security agencies warned that the threat of more attacks remained very real.

Downing Street said the Government would not allow terrorists to “undermine” the British way of life.

The Foreign Office reiterated that the knighthood was not intended to insult Islam but was in recognition of Sir Salman’s contribution to literature.

“The Government has already made clear that Rushdie’s honour was not intended as an insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammad,” said a spokesman adding that the Government would continue to tackle the threat from international terrorism as “a priority”.