Pope Told He'll Be Killed if He Travels to Lebanon

From Associated Press

An underground extremist faction threatened Monday to kill Pope John Paul II if he comes to Lebanon on a peace mission.

The wording of the threat by the previously unknown Organization for the Defense of the Oppressed suggested that it was made by Shiite Muslim zealots.

Delivered to a Western news agency in Beirut, the statement said: "To His Holiness Pope John Paul II: We address our words to him, wishing that he writes his will before he comes to Beirut.

"The organization emphasizes that His Holiness the Pope will be one of the victims of the criminal war our beloved homeland Lebanon is living through," the statement said.

Other Muslim groups have said that a Lebanese peace mission by the Roman Catholic leader would really be intended to boost the Christian side in the country's 14-year-old civil war.

However, a senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, was quoted Sunday as saying he would welcome the Pope and "give him full security guarantees" to visit Muslim West Beirut.

The Vatican said it is studying the possibility of a visit to Lebanon, but no date has been set.

In its statement, the extremist group also said "it will arrange a reception for the Pope of Rome similar to our reception of the Israeli invaders and the forces of (former President) Reagan and the 'loving mother' (France) in 1982 and 1983."

That last reference was to twin suicide truck bombings on Oct. 23, 1983, that killed 241 American soldiers and 58 French troops in West Beirut. The attacks prompted the withdrawal of an international peacekeeping force from Lebanon.

France, which ruled Lebanon from 1918 to 1943, often is referred to as the Christians' "loving mother," mainly because it helped forge a national covenant that guaranteed key government posts, including the presidency, to Christians after independence.

Lebanon's Christian community is smaller than the Muslim population.

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