Northern Ireland

Police question Pastor James McConnell over Islam remarks

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Media captionPastor McConnell spoke to media outside Newtownabbey police station

A Belfast pastor who called Islam "heathen" and "satanic" spent almost two hours at a police station on Friday being questioned about his remarks.

Pastor James McConnell from the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle has apologised publicly for any distress.

After he left Newtownabbey police station, his solicitor Joe Rice said he had attended voluntarily and had not been arrested.

Mr Rice said police inquiries were continuing.

Outside the station, he read a statement in which the pastor apologised for any offence caused. Earlier Mr McConnell issued a statement on his church website.

"I had no intention of causing any offence or insulting any member of the Muslim community," he said.

The pastor said he had not intended to "arouse fear or stir up or incite hatred" towards any member of the Muslim community.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson was heavily criticised when he backed Mr McConnell.

Earlier this week, Mr Robinson visited the Belfast Islamic Centre and made a public apology for his comments.

Speaking to his congregation in north Belfast on 18 May, Mr McConnell said "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.

He said he agreed with the late MP Enoch Powell, whose 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech criticised immigration.

Image caption Mr McConnell was speaking at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast

"Enoch Powell was a prophet, he called it that blood would flow on the streets and it has happened," he said.

But in the statement on his website, Mr McConnell said: "My sermon was drawing attention to how many followers of Islam have, regrettably, interpreted the doctrine of Islam as justification for violence.

"I have qualified my comments by reference to those who use their religion as justification for violence. As a preacher of the word of God, it is this interpretation of the doctrine of Islam which I am condemning.

"I abhor violence and condemn anyone, of any faith, who uses religion to justify it."

He also said his mission worked in Ethiopia to help children, both Christian and Muslim, and also funded a clinic in Kenya.

He said he would welcome any opportunity to go to the Islamic Centre in Belfast.

In the row that followed Mr McConnell's comments, Mr Robinson told the Irish News that he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or those devoted to Sharia law.

But he said he would "trust them to go to the shops" for him.

His remarks caused anger and hurt.

Belfast hospital consultant Dr Samina Dornan said Muslim staff had been very hurt by it and that he should apologise publicly.

Mr Robinson later said his remarks had been misinterpreted, and met Muslim leaders in Belfast to apologise.

At Stormont on Tuesday, assembly members condemned the recent racial attacks and expressed their opposition to racism, discrimination and intolerance.

The assembly passed - without a formal vote - a motion calling for all parties to show leadership on the issue and urging the first and deputy first ministers to bring forward a racial equality strategy as a matter of urgency.

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