3 men in court charged with publisher attack plot

LONDON (AP) -- Three men charged with plotting to attack the publisher of a novel about the Prophet Muhammad's child bride made a brief court appearance Friday after being charged with plotting to damage the offices of Gibson Square publishers.

Ali Beheshti, 40, Abrar Mirza, 22, and Abbas Taj, 30, Beheshti also were charged with possession of a weapon designed or adapted for the discharge of a noxious liquid or gas - reportedly a gasoline bomb. No one was injured in the incident.

The suspects were returned to jail and their next court appearance is set for Oct. 17.

They were arrested early Sept. 27 under anti-terrorism laws, but were not charged with any terrorist offenses.

Gibson Square had announced on Sept. 8 it would publish "The Jewel of Medina" by U.S. author Sherry Jones. The novel is focused on the prophet's wife Aisha, who according to tradition was 9 when she became the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.

Random House Inc., backed off plans to publish the book in the United States citing credible threats the book "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

In 1989, mass protests worldwide followed the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses," because it allegedly insulted Islam. Rushdie lived in hiding and under guard for years after Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, called for his death.

Rushdie joined in criticism of Random House, his publisher, for dropping Jones' book. "This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent," he said in an e-mail to the AP earlier this year.

U.S. publisher Beaufort subsequently said it would publish the book on Oct. 15 but on Thursday moved the release date up to Monday in an effort to reduce the chance of violence. As of Friday morning, the book was No. 435 on Amazon.com.

On Tuesday, a report on The Bookseller magazine Web site said Martin Rynja, which owns Gibson Square, was reconsidering whether to go ahead with the book.

Borders UK and Amazon have said they intend to stock the book, while the Blackwell's chain is leaving the decision to individual shop managers. Waterstone's has said it had not decided what it would do if the book was published, but that the safety of its staff would be a consideration.


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