Pastor James McConnell questioned by police on morning he apologises for 'unwittingly causing distress' to Muslims with 'satanic Islam' comments
Pastor James McConnell has been questioned by detectives at Newtownabbey Police Station - on the same morning he issued a public apology for any distress he "may have unwittingly caused" to Muslims with his controversial sermon on Islam.
The rant, in which he described Islam as a satanic religion and a "doctrine spawned in hell", became a full-blown political row after the First Minister defended the comments and said he would not trust Muslims who have been involved in terrorist activities or those devoted to Sharia law.
The preacher is being investigated by the PSNI over a potential hate crime and was questioned for almost two hours on Friday.
It is understood he attended the police station voluntarily. His solicitor Joe Rice said the questioning was "cordial", but that police were still investigating his comments.
Mr McConnell's church, the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast, issued a "clarification statement" on Friday morning.
He did not apologise for what he said in his sermon, but stated: "I had no intention of causing any offence or insulting any member of the Muslim community or to arouse fear or stir-up or incite hatred towards any member of the Muslim community.
"I wish to apologise publicly for any distress I may have unwittingly caused on my part.
"My sermon was drawing attention to how many followers of Islam have, regrettably, interpreted the doctrine of Islam as justification for violence. I have qualified my comments by reference to those who use their religion as justification for violence. As a preacher of the word of God, it is this interpretation of the doctrine of Islam which I am condemning.
"I abhor violence and condemn anyone, of any faith, who uses religion to justify it."
Mr McConnell said he had "worked tirelessly" to promote his Christian doctrine and claimed many faiths and denominations had attended the Tabernacle, including members of the Muslim faith.
"My mission has created a community in Ethiopia which ensures over 600 children a day, including Christans and Muslims, have access to clean water and food. In addition, we fund a clinic in Kenya which provides 1200 people a month with access to medical care.
"I believe in the principle of free speech and in freedom of religion."
He added: "I also will welcome any opportunity to attend at the Islamic Centre in Belfast in the near future."
A spate of racist attacks in Belfast has threatened minorities and a Pakistani man was hospitalised after being assaulted in his house last weekend.
On Tuesday evening Peter Robinson apologised in front of TV cameras for any offence caused by his defence of the preacher.
Mr Robinson was heavily criticised after he said he would not trust Muslims for spiritual guidance but would trust them to "go down to the shops" for him.
His words sparked a rally against racism in Belfast city centre on Saturday, and another is set to take place this weekend.
Further reading:Anna Lo tells Belfast anti-racism rally: I'm staying put
Belfast Telegraph Digital