BAGHDAD: A reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush was being held for questioning by the Iraqi prime minister’s guards, an Iraqi official said Monday, as Arabs across the Middle East hailed the incident as a proper send-off to the unpopular US president.
Muntazer Al-Zaidi was being interrogated over whether anybody paid him to throw his shoes at Bush during a press conference Sunday in Baghdad and was being tested for alcohol and drugs, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
After the shoe-throwing incident, White House press secretary Dana Perino suffered an eye injury when she was hit in the face with a microphone during the melee.
Bush, who has grown used to protests of his Iraq policy, brushed off the incident. He said, “So what if a guy threw his shoe at me?
According to Al-Zaidi’s colleagues, the Iraqi journalist “detested America and had been plotting such an attack for months.
In addition, they said Al-Zaidi was kidnapped last year by Shia militias and released after his TV station, Al-Baghdadia, intervened.
The Shia journalist, who is in his late 20s, was being held at the headquarters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, said the official. His shoes were being held as evidence, he added.
Al-Baghdadia repeatedly aired pleas to release Al-Zaidi on Monday, while showing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the US in Iraq.
“We have all been mobilized to work on releasing him, and all the organizations around the world are with us, said Abdel-Hameed Al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, where the station is based. “This whole thing is putting the Iraqis and the Americans to a test. Are they going to release him or try him?
Al-Jazeera television interviewed Saddam Hussein’s chief lawyer Khalil Al-Dulaimi, who offered to defend Al-Zaidi, calling him a “hero.
Al-Jazeera and many other Arab satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident Monday. Al-Zaidi leapt from his chair as Bush and Al-Maliki were about to shake hands Sunday and hurled his shoes at the president, who was about 20 feet away.
“This is a farewell kiss, you dog, he yelled in Arabic. “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.
Al-Zaidi was immediately wrestled to the ground by Iraqi security guards.
Many other Arab journalists and commentators, fed up with US policy in the Middle East and Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam, echoed Al-Zaidi’s sentiments Monday.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, wrote on the newspaper’s website that the incident was “a proper goodbye for a war criminal.
Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is a sign of extreme disrespect, and throwing your shoes is even worse.
“This great Arab shoe sums up the history of the criminal Bush, who is responsible for the loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of Islamic sons and who remained arrogant, spiteful and mean-spirited until the last moment of his term, wrote Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a political science professor at An Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus, on a Palestinian website.
Thousands took to the streets Monday in Baghdad’s Shia slum of Sadr City, where supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr burned American flags to protest against Bush and called for the release of Al-Zaidi.
“Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head, the protesters chanted in unison.
Ghufran Al-Saidi, a Shia lawmaker from Al-Sadr’s bloc, told AP that she was demanding the immediate release of Al-Zaidi. -Agencies