Washington: Muslim groups reacted angrily after it emerged that the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan were using rifle sights inscribed with coded Biblical references.
The company producing the sights, which are also used to train Afghan and Iraqi soldiers under contracts with the US Army and the Marine Corps, said it has inscribed references to the New Testament on the metal casings for over two decades.
The British Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, announced it had placed an order for 400 of the gunsights with Trijicon but added it had not been aware of the significance of the inscriptions, in a decision criticised by the opposition Liberal Democrat party.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) called on US Defence Secretary Robert Gates to immediately withdraw from combat use equipment found to have inscriptions of
Biblical references after it emerged that Trijicon has contracts to supply over 800,000 of the sights to the US military.
The Pentagon sought to defuse the brewing controversy, saying it was "disturbed" by the reports.
"If determined to be true, this is clearly inappropriate and we are looking into possible remedies," Commander Darryn James, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
New Zealand to remove abbreviated references
The New Zealand Defence Force will remove abbreviated references to Bible verses from US-made gun sights used by its forces in Afghanistan, saying they were "inappropriate" and could be used in enemy propaganda.
Military chiefs said they were unaware that inscriptions on the Trijicon advanced combat optical gunsights, also used by US and British troops, included references to verses in the Bible until alerted by a newspaper.
The markings, which are in embossed lettering at the end of the stock number, include "JN8:12" - a reference to John 8:12: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, `I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,`" The Press paper in Christchurch reported on Thursday.
Defence Force spokesman Major Kristian Dunne told the paper: "We can see how they would cause offence. Everyone has freedoms of religious belief. It also could be used against us by other religions."
He said the military was unhappy that the US manufacturer had not advised them about the inscriptions and they would be told not to put them on further orders.
The letters and numbers would be removed from the Defence Force`s existing 260 gun sights, which had been in use since 2004, and soldiers would continue using them because they were the best of their kind, he said.
The codes were used as "part of our faith and our belief in service to our country," Trijicon said.
"As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation," a company spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
The move appeared to be a direct violation of a US Central Command general order issued after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that strictly prohibits "proselytising of any religion, faith or practice."
A whistleblower group that first alerted ABC News to the issue this week warned the practice was putting troops in harm`s way by raising fears of Christian proselytising in Muslim-majority nations, home to militants resentful of US military presence.
The shocking revelation raises fresh fears of Christian fundamentalism seeping through the US military`s ranks.
A Muslim-American soldier, who declined to be named due to fears of persecution, said he was "ashamed" and "horrified" by the writings on the gunsights of weapons he used during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
News reports in the US quoted Tom Munson, Trijicon`s director of sales and marketing, as saying the biblical references were first put on the gun sights nearly 30 years ago by company founder, Glyn Bindon, who died in a plane crash in 2003.
"We don`t publicise this," he said. "It`s not something we make a big deal out of. But when asked, we say, `Yes, it`s there.`"
The rifle sights use tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, to create light and help shooters hit their targets.
(With Agencies’ inputs)