3 Men Charged in Plot to Attack Book Publisher

Three men charged with plotting to attack the publisher of a novel about one of the Prophet Muhammad's wives made a brief court appearance Friday and were returned to custody.

Ali Beheshti, 40, Abrar Mirza, 22, and Abbas Taj, 30, were charged late Thursday with plotting to damage the offices of Gibson Square publishers. Beheshti was also charged with possession of a weapon designed or adapted for the discharge of a noxious liquid or gas — reportedly a gasoline bomb. No one was injured in the incident.

The suspects' next appearance at City of Westminster Magistrates Court was set for Oct. 17.

They were arrested early Sept. 27 under anti-terrorism laws, but were not charged with any terrorist offenses.

Gibson Square had announced on Sept. 8 that it would publish "The Jewel of Medina" by U.S. journalist Sherry Jones. The novel is focused on the prophet's very young wife Aisha.

Random House Inc., which had planned to publish the book in the United States, changed its mind after what it called "credible and unrelated sources" warned that the book "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

U.S. publisher Beaufort subsequently said that it would publish the book on Oct. 15. As of Friday morning, the book was No. 435 on Amazon.com.

On Tuesday, a report on The Bookseller magazine Web site said Martin Rynja, the publisher of Gibson Square, was considering whether to go ahead with the book.

The Bookseller quoted Alan Jessop of Compass, the publisher's sales representative, as saying Rynja was taking advice from the security services.

Borders UK and Amazon have said they intend to stock the book, while the Blackwell's chain is leaving the decision to individual shop managers. Waterstone's has said it had not decided what it would do if the book was published, but that the safety of its staff would be a consideration.

In 1989, mass protests worldwide followed the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses," because it allegedly insulted Islam. Rushdie lived in hiding and under guard for years after Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, called for his death.

There were much smaller protests in June after Rushdie accepted a knighthood at Buckingham Palace. Demonstrators, some wearing masks, chanted "Death to Rushdie! Death to the queen!" outside Regent's Park Mosque in London.

Rushdie joined in criticism of Random House, his publisher, for dropping Jones' book. "This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent," he said in an e-mail to the AP earlier this year.