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Man Says Threat To Blow Up Poet’s Tomb Was A Joke

March 11, 1989

RAVENNA, Italy (AP) _ Police have arrested a man who allegedly threatened to blow up Dante’s tomb because the famed poet supposedly blasphemed the prophet Mohammed more than 650 years ago, an official said today.

A police investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a retired Ravenna merchant admitted writing the threatening letters ″only as a joke and had no idea all this fuss would have been created.″ The merchant was arrested Thursday, the investigator said.

Police were posted at the tomb after Ravenna Mayor Mauro Dragone and a newspaper received letters last week attributed to a group called ″Guardians of the Revolution.″

The writer of the letters said Dante, in his classic ″Divine Comedy,″ placed the founder of Islam in hell.

The police investigator identified the merchant as Vincenzo Strocchi, a self-styled Dante scholar, and said authorities have not decided whether to charge him.

The letter to the mayor demanded that Dragone publicly announce that Dante had lied about Mohammed and that ″Divine Commedy,″ revered as the most magnificent poetic creation in the Italian language, should not be studied or read.

Dante’s epic, a work of more than 14,000 lines in 100 cantos, recounts a poet’s journey through hell, purgatory and heaven. It places Mohammed in the ninth pit of hell.

The threats to blow up Dante’s tomb sparked a furor in Ravenna because of the worldwide death threats made against British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel ″The Satanic Verses″ makes references to Islam and Mohammed that Moslems call blasphemous.

Iranian clerics have called for Rushdie’s death and have placed a $5.2 million reward on his head.

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