Man guilty of firebomb attack on publisher of Mohamed book

Incident followed storm over 'The Jewel of Medina'
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The Independent Culture

A minicab driver was found guilty yesterday of helping try to firebomb the home of a publisher days before the release of a novel about the marital life of the Prophet Mohamed.

Abbas Taj, 30, was waiting in his car as two accomplices poured diesel through the letter box of the four-storey home of Martin Rynja, who had vowed to publish The Jewel of Medina after the American-based giant Random House postponed publication due to concerns that the book would lead to "acts of violence" by Muslim extremists. Taj, from Forest Gate, east London, arrived outside the home of Mr Rynja in Islington, at 2am on 27 September last year and watched Abrar Mirza, a mobile phone salesman, and Ali Beheshti, who is unemployed, try to set light to the house, which is also the publisher's office.

Police, who had warned Mr Rynja that an attack was possible, arrested Mirza and Beheshti outside the house as the fire was started, and kicked down the door to extinguish the flames. Taj drove away.

A jury at Croydon Crown Court in south London convicted Taj by a majority verdict of conspiracy to recklessly damage property and endanger life. Taj shook his head as he was found guilty and mouthed "No". He had claimed to have "no idea" about the plot and and was just giving a lift to friends. Beheshti, 41, from Ilford, and Mirza, 23, from Walthamstow, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy at a previous hearing,

The Jewel of Medina is a fictionalised seventh-century account of the life of Aisha, the third of Mohamed's 13 wives often referred to as the prophet's "favourite". They were engaged when she was six and married three years later.

A Texas-based academic sent a pre-publication copy decided it "made fun of Muslims and their history", and wrote to moderate Muslims and the press warning that its contents could provoke anger. Random House, which paid the author, Sherry Jones, $100,000 (£65,000) for a two-book deal, held publication, saying security experts and scholars of Islam believed releasing the novel could endanger its employees.

Mr Rynja announced his Gibson House imprint would take on the title, saying he had been "bowled over" by its contents and wanted to see its release "regardless of fear".

The three men are to be sentenced in July.

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