Syria's pro-regime Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun on Thursday rejected claims he had encouraged terrorism in Europe, during a rare visit outside Syria that has triggered outrage from rights groups.
"They say that I said I will send terrorists to Europe to kill themselves. I don't know why they lie in their translations," the top Sunni cleric said, speaking in Arabic through an interpreter.
"I said, don't bombard Syria or Lebanon. If fire gets burning in Syria or Lebanon there are dormant cells in the world that will be awakened. I feared for Europe," he said in comments before an Irish parliamentary committee.
However, a 2011 speech of his available on YouTube suggests otherwise.Hassoun issued a clear warning against intervention in Syria, saying: "From the first round fired, the sons of Syria and Lebanon will become fighters who will carry out suicide attacks on the land of Europe and Palestine.
"I say to Europe and the United States: we will prepare the fedayeen (fighters) if you strike Syria, because now it's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," he said at the time.
Hassoun often appears alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad for religious occasions. In 2012, a US group promoting peace in the Middle East rescinded an invitation for him to speak saying that it had not properly researched his background.
Hassoun arrived in Ireland on Tuesday as part of a religious delegation of Syrian religious leaders and visited Trinity College Dublin on Wednesday. The Irish Syria Solidarity Movement has called for Hassoun to be arrested for hate crimes. It said his support for Assad made him "repugnant" and called him a "horrible prop of a vile dictator".
Ali Salim, a senior member of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, was quoted by The New Arab as calling him a "war criminal" and adding: "He's not welcome."
Novelist Robin Yassin-Kassab, who also addressed the parliamentary committee on Thursday, called Hassoun a "propagandist for genocide" in a tweet.