ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – A man fired a weapon in front of the Italian consulate in Istanbul on Thursday to protest against Pope Benedict’s visit to the predomintly Muslim country later this month, raising concern over the Pontiff’s safety there.
“I did what every Muslim has do to. God willing, the Pope will not come to Turkey, but if he does he will see what will happen to him,” 26-year-old Ibrahim Ak told the DHA news agency while sitting in a police car after he was detained.
Antonino Maggiore, the Italian embassy spokesman in Ankara, said a security guard at the consulate had heard the gunman say something about his Muslim identity. The broadcaster CNN Turk said the attacker threw his weapon into the consulate grounds before he was detained.
Benedict’s first visit to Turkey on Nov. 28-Dec. 1 has been overshadowed by Muslim anger since a lecture he gave in September at a German university in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine Emperor in a passage seen as critical of the Prophet Mohammad.
“We think that this is something that is an isolated incident and does not disturb the overall calm preparations for the trip,” chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Reuters.
The leader of more than 1 billion Catholics has several times expressed regret for the reaction to the speech but has stopped short of the unequivocal apology wanted by some Muslims.
Some of the strongest criticism of the speech came from Turkey, where nationalists and Islamic activists have pushed for his trip to be cancelled.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, has decided not to meet Pope Benedict because of a busy schedule, a move Italian commentators said amounted to a diplomatic snub.
“If an opportunity arises for Erdogan to meet the Pope during his visit he will do so, but at the moment that looks very difficult given the busy schedule,” a Turkish government official told Reuters.
Many Turks remain uneasy about the Pope’s trip, some fearing it will increase the popularity of non-Muslim religions or threaten the country’s secularism.