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Quran burned at 3rd small Sweden protest after warning that desecrating Islam's holy book brings terror risk

Two protesters burned pages torn from a Quran outside Sweden's parliament in Stockholm Monday, the third such demonstration in recent weeks and the first since the country's prime minister warned that demonstrations involving the desecration of Islam's holy book were making Sweden a bigger target for terrorism.

On Monday, two men — Salwan Momika and Salwan Najem — kicked and stomped on a Quran before setting some pages from the book alight, French news agency AFP reported. Momika, a Christian Iraqi refugee, and Najem previously burned a copy of the Quran in June while standing outside Stockholm's Grand Mosque on the day of Eid-ul-Adha, the most important religious festival on the Muslim calendar.

Momika, who sought political asylum in Sweden a few years ago, also staged another protest in July at which he stomped on a Quran and used the Iraqi flag to wipe his shoes outside Iraq's embassy in the Swedish capital.

The two previous protests sparked outrage in Muslim countries and drew protests often aimed at Swedish embassies.

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A woman holds up a Quran during a protest outside the Swedish consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 22, 2023. Francisco Seco/AP

Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said last week that he was "deeply concerned" as more requests were being submitted to Sweden's police for permission to hold anti-Muslim protests involving Quran desecration.

The prime minister told Sweden's TT news agency that the Swedish Security Service had determined that, while the country had long been considered a "legitimate" target for terror attacks by militant groups and lone actors inspired by them, it was now being "prioritized" as a target.

Freedom of speech is protected under Sweden's constitution and police can only refuse a protest permit if "there have been serious public disturbances or a considerable danger for participants at a previous gathering of a similar kind," according to guidelines on the website for Swedish police authorities.

Anger over the protests boiled over in Iraq, where scores of angry demonstrators have twice stormed Sweden's embassy. The government in Baghdad formally cut diplomatic ties with Sweden and several other Muslim majority countries around the globe have summoned Swedish ambassadors in their capitals to lodge formal complaints.

Protesters angered by the burning of a copy of the Quran at a small protest in Stockholm, Sweden, scale a wall at the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2023. Ali Jabar/AP

Iran's response to the Quran burning protests has included thinly veiled threats from the Islamic republic's highest authority.

In a social media post last week, Iran's "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the "insult to the Holy Quran in Sweden is a bitter, conspiratorial, dangerous event. It is the opinion of all Islamic scholars that those who have insulted the Holy Quran deserve the severest punishment."

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was convening an emergency virtual meeting Monday to address the desecration of the Quran in both Sweden and Denmark, where similar protests have also been staged in recent weeks.

On Sunday, Denmark's top diplomat Lars Løkke Rasmussen said the Danish government would seek to make it illegal to desecrate the Quran or any other religious text in front of foreign embassies amid backlash from the Islamic community, The Associated Press reported.

In a statement also issued on Sunday, the Danish government said that while freedom of expression is one of the most important values in Danish society, Quran burnings "are deeply offensive and reckless acts committed by few individuals." 

"These few individuals do not represent the values the Danish society is built on," the Danish government said, adding that it will explore the possibility of "intervening in special situations" where cultures and religions are being insulted.

Sweden's leader, Kristersson, said in a statement issued Sunday that his country and Denmark were "in the most serious security situation since the Second World War, and as for Sweden, we are aware that states and state-like actors are actively exploiting the situation." 

The prime minister called the situation "dangerous" and said new measures would be necessary "to strengthen our resilience." 

"In Sweden, we have already started analyzing the legal situation," he said, "with the purpose of exploring the scope for measures that would strengthen our national security and the security of Swedes in Sweden and abroad."

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