The cartoonist had incurred the wrath of some sections of the Muslim Ummah in 2005 for drawing a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad sporting a bomb in his hair. Since then, the cartoonist has been under high protection by the Danish Police and Intelligence. He escaped the attempt on January 1, 2010, thanks to his alertness in noticing the intending assailant and calling the police through a pre-arranged drill. The credit for the failure of the attempt should go to the cartoonist himself as well as to the Police. Both acted as per the drill for physical security laid down by the police after he started receiving threats in 2005.
It goes to the credit of the police and the Danish intelligence that they had not allowed the absence of any attack since 2005 to make them self-complacent. Moreover, the Danish Police and intelligence were doubly alert after the arrest of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) by the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in October, 2009.
The pre-arrest electronic surveillance of these two LET operatives -- both of Pakistani origin, with Headley holding the US nationality and Rana the Canadian nationality -- and their post-arrest interrogation brought out that the 313 Brigade of Pakistan headed by Ilyas Kashmiri and the LET were planning to use Headley for another major terrorist strike in India and for an attack on the Danish paper, which had published the cartoons in 2005. The LET was keen on the Indian attack and the 313 Brigade on the Danish attack, which had been code-named Operation Micky Mouse.
At the instance of Ilyas Kashmiri, Headley had visited Denmark twice to collect operational information to facilitate the attack. He was arrested by the FBI on October 3, 2009, before he could leave Chicago for Pakistan along with the operational details collected by him. A perusal of the affidavits filed by the FBI before a Chicago court showed that while Ilyas Kashmiri was interested in a spectacular strike in Copenhagen similar to Mumbai 26/11, Headley himself preferred an assassination of the journalists responsible which, he felt, would be more feasible.
What Ilyas and Headley failed to achieve due to the alertness of the FBI, the Somali, not yet named by the Danish police, sought to achieve on New Year's Day. The thwarted attempt of the Somali illustrates once again the homing pigeon tactics of Al Qaeda, which keeps persisting in its jihadi trajectory despite failures and set-backs. The timely arrest of Headley did not lead to its giving up its objective of taking revenge against the cartoonist.
The following details of the arrested Somali are presently available:
(a) He has been residing in Denmark for some time with a legal permit, but one does not know when he moved to Denmark and from where.
(b) The media has quoted Jakob Scharf, who heads the Danish intelligence service PET, as saying that the attack was "terror related" and that the assailant had close contacts with Al Shabaab. He had been under surveillance for activities unrelated to Westergaard. Al Shabaab is considered the Somali wing of Al Qaeda. Scharf added : "The incident once again confirms the terrorist threat that is directed against Denmark and against cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, in particular".
At a news conference in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, who has been described by the media as a spokesman of Al Shabaab, reportedly said, "We are very happy with the Somali national who attacked the house of the Danish cartoonist who previously insulted our prophet Mohammed. This is an honour for the Somali people. We are telling that we are glad that anyone who insults Islam should be attacked wherever they are." Thus, the organisation has expressed its approval of the attempted attack without claiming responsibility for it.
The Danish Police and Intelligence will now be investigating the background and links of the arrested Somali. A question, which should be of interest to investigators in Denmark, the US and India is: Did he have any contacts with Headley? Did Headley meet him during his two visits to Denmark?
This may be read in continuation of Al Qaeda's Southern Front
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.