Pakistani Minister Offers Bounty Over Anti-Islam Film

September 23, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani cabinet minister on Saturday offered a $100,000 reward for the death of the person behind the anti-Islam video made in the United States that has roiled Muslims around the world, even suggesting that Taliban and Al Qaeda militants could carry out the killing.

Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, the federal railways minister, said at a news conference in the northwestern city of Peshawar that he would personally finance a bounty aimed at the maker of a crude, low-budget video that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Bilour acknowledged that incitement to murder was illegal, but said he was “ready to be hanged in the name of the Prophet Muhammad.” And he invited the Taliban and Al Qaeda to be “partners in this noble deed,” according to news reports.

The incendiary statements came a day after violent protests paralyzed Pakistan’s largest cities, leaving 23 people dead and more than 200 injured, and invited fresh criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis.

A senior aide to Mr. Bilour sought to qualify his statements, saying that their purpose was to channel frustration and anger away from the streets of Pakistan, and toward the filmmaker in the United States.

But in Islamabad, the government distanced itself from the comments. “We completely dissociate ourselves from the statement of Mr. Bilour,” Shafqat Jalil, press secretary to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, said in an interview after several hours of silence from the government.

Mr. Jalil added that the prime minister had been trying contact the leader of Mr. Bilour’s party, a minority member of the coalition government. “The P.M. will try to work something out with him,” he said.

An Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he did not want to comment until he knew more about the context of the comments. The bounty offer came during widespread criticism of the government, which declared a public holiday on Friday to facilitate what it hoped would be peaceful protests, calling it a “Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad.”

“Pakistan was truly leaderless on Friday,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former ambassador to the United States. “By ceding space to the mob, the government actually joined the mob. And these statements only reinforce how playing to the gallery has very dangerous, long-term consequences for the country.”

Mr. Bilour did not name the target of his bounty, but it was widely presumed to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who lives in California and has been linked to the 14-minute video, described as a trailer for a movie titled “Innocence of Muslims.”

Mr. Nakoula has not confirmed reports of his involvement, but he has been questioned by the police near his residence south of Los Angeles.

In Pakistan, Mr. Bilour’s offer was taken more as a piece of political grandstanding than as a serious threat. A day earlier, at least six people died during protests in Peshawar, and rioters destroyed property that included a cinema belonging to Mr. Bilour’s brother, Aziz.

“It is not for us to destroy our country and our own poor people,” said Mr. Bilour’s aide, Zulfikar Ahmed, explaining the rationale for the bounty. “That’s why he said this.”

Yet Mr. Bilour’s party has suffered many attacks at the hands of the Taliban, which has killed dozens of his party colleagues in recent years.

Pakistan Railways, the state-owned company that Mr. Bilour presides over, is deeply in debt, and its performance has been marked by frequent strikes, poor service and train crashes — a fact to which some irate Pakistanis referred in comments on social media after the reward was announced.

“Mr. Bilour would better serve the Prophet Muhammad by saving the railways,” a person using the name Tariq Ahsan said on Twitter.

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