Abdul Rahman, the Afghan who risked the
death penalty for converting from Islam to
Christianity, has thanked Italy for
granting him political asylum, saying he
will finally be able to read the Bible in
Rahman, 41, is thought to have
disembarked at Rome's Ciampino airport
from a plane belonging to Italy's secret
service late Tuesday after boarding a
flight in Kabul, not long after his
release from prison on Monday.
The United Nations' mission in
Afghanistan is thought to have played a
key role in smuggling him out of the
He is now being held at an undisclosed
location near Rome, under the care of
Italy's interior ministry.
"Thank you," he told his hosts in
English. "I have been suffering for 11
years but I was never scared of dying
because I have the faith," La
Repubblica newspaper quoted him as
Rahman is being kept under constant
surveillance amid concerns that Islamic
extremists may attempt to kill what they
consider "a sworn enemy of Islam".
Italian authorities have begun
bureaucratic procedures aimed at granting
Rahman political asylum and are
considering offering him a new identity
for security reasons, reports said.
Rahman was arrested in early February
in the Afghan capital Kabul after his wife
filed a complaint in a child custody
dispute, accusing him of rejecting Islam -
an offence which carries the death penalty
under the country's Islamic Sharia law.
The case sparked an international
outcry, with Pope Benedict XVI, the
European Union, the United States and
Australia among those criticising the
Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco
Fini, who first offered Rahman hospitality
in Italy, as well as Catholic Church
officials in Rome both expressed
satisfaction over its "positive
Reports said Rahman had a coffee and
some pizza and said his greatest wish was
to "read the Bible in peace".
Afghanistan's parliament on Wednesday
denounced the release of Rahman as being
against the law of the land and warned he
should not be allowed to take up offers of
asylum outside the country.
Rahman said he had converted to
Christianity after spending nine years in
Germany and working for a Christian relief
agency in Pakistan.
The case had placed George Bush's
administration in the tricky position of
trying to respect Afghan sovereignty while
promoting religious freedom - a key part
of the president's agenda to spread
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose
government was established after US-led
forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, is a
close US ally.
In Afghanistan meanwhile a purported
spokesman for the hardline Taliban on
Thursday denounced Rahman's release and
demanded Muslims stage protests against
"We strongly condemn this
crime by the puppet (Afghan) government
and strongly demand of the Muslim nation
to angrily react against this decision,"
said the purported spokesman Mohammed
Hanif in an email sent to The Associated
Hanif said in the statement, which
could not be independently
authenticated, that the release of
Rahman "made it clear that the
judiciary, parliament and executive are
not independent in Afghanistan".
"In fact all powers are with the
foreign forces," the statement added.
En route to Europe, US Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice praised the
outcome of Rahman's case and said
Afghanistan's fledgling democracy needed
more help to deal with such issues.
"It's favourable in the sense that
this man's life has been spared and that
the Afghans were able to create
conditions in which he was able to leave
the country," Rice told reporters.
"You're dealing with a young
democracy but you're dealing with one
that at least has a constitution that
enshrines the universal declaration of
human rights, that understands the
international concern about this issue
and is responsive to that, and that's a
far cry from the Taliban," Rice added.