COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Denmark has temporarily withdrawn its ambassadors from Syria, Iran and Indonesia because their safety was at risk in the wake of a Danish newspaper's publication of drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday.
Danish embassy buildings in all three countries had been targeted by angry mobs protesting the publication of the caricatures in September. European and American newspapers subsequently reprinted the drawings.
The Foreign Ministry said it withdrew all Danish staff from its embassy in Tehran, Iran, because of "serious and concrete threats" against the ambassador.
Threats also were directed at the embassy personnel in Indonesia, the ministry said, without giving details. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country.
The Finnish Embassy would take over Denmark's consular services in Tehran, while the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta would handle the same duties in Indonesia, the Foreign Ministry said.
Earlier Saturday, the ministry announced it had temporarily pulled back its ambassador and other Danish staff from Syria because they were not getting enough protection from authorities.
The building housing the embassy in Damascus was burned last week by protesters.
"The de-escalation of the protection of the ambassador and his staff to an inadequate level is the reason for the departure," the ministry said in a statement. It said the German Embassy in Damascus would handle Denmark's consular services for now.
Sweden, whose embassy is in the same building in the Syrian capital, said it did not have any immediate plans to withdraw staff, said Jan Janonius, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Stockholm.
Denmark temporarily closed its diplomatic mission in Lebanon earlier this week after similar protests there.
The small Scandinavian country is shell-shocked by the wave of anti-Danish protests, some of them violent, that have spread like wildfire across the Muslim world.
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which first published the cartoons, apologized for offending Muslims but stood by its decision to print the drawings, citing freedom of speech.
Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.
The newspaper's culture editor, Flemming Rose, who was in charge of the drawings, went on indefinite leave Thursday but many Muslims said that would do little to quell the uproar.
The paper has denied that Rose was ordered to go leave because he suggested reprinting Holocaust drawings solicited by an Iranian newspaper, setting off a dispute earlier this week with Jyllands-Posten's editor-in-chief.
"He was not forced out," said the paper's spokesman, Tage Clausen. "He's on vacation, that's all."
Clausen said Rose had been under "tremendous pressure" as the controversy escalated with attacks on Danish embassies and anti-Danish protests throughout the Muslim world.
Abdul Wahid Pedersen, a Danish imam, said Rose's departure would have little effect, and might even escalate the situation by giving the impression the newspaper was more worried about offending Jews than Muslims.
"We warmly welcome that he is sent on holiday," Pedersen said. "But that it happens a day after the matter with the Jewish caricatures gives it a different taste somehow."
Many Danes suspect a group of Danish Islamic leaders helped stir rage in the Muslim world with visits to the Mideast and inflammatory comments to Arabic media.
The Muslim leaders deny responsibility for fueling the flames and repeatedly have denounced the violence.
The anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which supports the government in Parliament, on Friday urged the government to withdraw the citizenship of three of the group's leaders.