Taliban Demands Pope Stop Conversions of Afghans

The Taliban has warned Pope Benedict XVI that he will feel "the consequences of a severe reaction" if Christianity is allowed to be preached in Afghanistan.

He was also asked to stop any attempts by "crusaders" to convert Muslims to Christianity.

The warning was made as Pope Benedict began an eight-day tour of the Middle East on Friday. This is his first papal tour of the Holy Land.

According to the ANSA news service, the Taliban issued a statement on an Islamic website following video footage by Al Jazeera showing U.S. soldiers with Bibles translated into the local Afghan languages.

The statement, on the website Alemarah1.org, said, "The Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan asks Pope Benedict XVI to act to stop the foolish and irresponsible actions of the crusaders upsetting the feelings of Muslim rebels, without awaiting the consequences of a severe reaction."

"The Taleban forcefully exhort the mujaheddin [jihadis], scholars and all religious circles to control the activities of the invaders and crusaders, and not allow anyone to preach religions except Islam," the message continued.

Afghan Muslims have been urged by the Taliban to resist conversion to another religion.

The U.S. Army said the Bibles were never distributed and were confiscated and destroyed. Army officials also confirmed that proselytism by active troops was forbidden.

Amid the controversy, Pope Benedict is making his first trip to an Arab country hoping to improve relations with the Muslim world.

His first stop is in Jordan where he will meet King Abdullah before heading to Israel.

Islamic extremists in Jordan have condemned the Pope's visit to the country, criticizing the Pope for not apologizing for offending Muslims in 2006 when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Following the Pope's comments in 2006, the Vatican released a statement in which the Pope expressed his regret at having caused offense to Muslims and reiterated that his intention was merely to speak against all forms of religiously motivated violence.

Despite this, Zaki Bani Rusheid, head of the Islamic Action Front, one of Jordan's biggest political parties, was quoted by Reuters as saying, "The present Vatican pope is the one who issued severe insults to Islam and did not offer any apology to the Muslims."