Northern Ireland

Pastor James McConnell grateful for Peter Robinson backing

James McConnell
Image caption James McConnell said he did not want Peter Robinson to get into trouble over him

The north Belfast Pastor who described Islam as "heathen" and "satanic" has said he was touched Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson had spoken in support of him.

Mr Robinson defended James McConnell and said that he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or those devoted to Sharia law.

He said, however, he would "trust them to go to the shops" for him.

Mr McConnell said he was surprised Mr Robinson had spoken in his defence.

"I didn't want him to get into trouble over me," he told the BBC's Nolan Show on Wednesday night.

"He didn't really need to do that, because when a man talks like that his career is at stake."

Police said they were investigating "a hate crime motive" after complaints about Mr McConnell's initial remarks, made during an address at Belfast's Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Church.

However, on Wednesday night, Mr McConnell said police had not spoken to him.

"What are they investigating? It's freedom of speech, I'm allowed to say this," he said.

A police spokesman said on Thursday: "No arrests have been made. Inquiries are continuing."

Mr McConnell told his congregation on 18 May "a new evil had arisen" and "there are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain".

"Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell," he said.

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Media captionPeter Robinson made the comments in an interview with the Irish News

Mr Robinson said that Mr McConnell had been demonised because of his remarks, and that there "isn't an ounce of hatred in his (the pastor's) bones".

The first minister, who made his remarks in an interview with the The Irish News newspaper, said he had attended the evangelical church in the past.

He added that it was a duty of any preacher to denounce what he described as "false prophesy".

He went on to say that he would not trust Muslims either, particularly with regard to those who had been involved in violence, or those who are "fully devoted to Sharia law, I wouldn't trust them for spiritual guidance".

However, Mr Robinson said he would trust Muslims to "go down to the shops" for him or to deal with a number of other "day to day issues".

Both Mr McConnell's original comments and Mr Robinson's defence of the pastor have been widely criticised.

Comments criticised

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin called on Mr Robinson to show leadership in promoting equality, tolerance and mutual respect for all.

In response, Mr Robinson said on Twitter that he would not "take lectures from a self-confessed leader of a bloody terrorist organisation".

Stormont Justice Minister David Ford said: "Frankly, it sounds like the kind of language that would have gone down well in South Africa a few years ago or the southern parts of the United States half a century ago."

The Equality Commission's chief commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said he was dismayed by Mr Robinson's comments.

Khalid Anis from the Islamic Society of Britain said he was shocked that a prominent politician in a position of leadership could speak "with such a double tongue".

The Muslim Association of Britain said: "The pastor's comments not only hurt thousands of Muslims living peacefully in Northern Ireland, but also promote hatred and bigotry against all Muslims in the UK.

"The words of Mr Robinson demonstrate his lack of leadership, when as a representative he should be sensitive to the constituents he represents."

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