Man details World Cup plot
Baghdad - An alleged al-Qaeda militant detained in Iraq said on Tuesday he was plotting to attack Danish and Dutch teams at the Soccer World Cup in South Africa next month to avenge insults against the Prophet Muhammad.
Iraqi security forces holding a Saudi citizen identified as Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani arranged for The Associated Press to interview him at an unidentified government building in Baghdad. He said he initially came to Iraq in 2004 to fight Americans and was recruited by al-Qaeda.
An Iraqi security official with knowledge of the investigation said al-Qahtani was arrested after a joint US-Iraqi operation in April that killed the two top al-Qaeda in Iraq figures - Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. The official asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to discuss details of the case.
Documents found in the house where they were killed, including a note written by al-Qahtani detailing the World Cup plot, led to his arrest on May 3. Iraqi authorities announced the arrest on Monday.
"We discussed the possibility of taking revenge for the insults of the prophet by attacking Denmark and Holland," al-Qahtani told The AP. "The goal was to attack the Danish and the Dutch teams and their fans," he added.
"If we were not able to reach the teams, then we'd target the fans," he said, adding that they hoped to use guns and car bombs.
The alleged militant, who is about 30 years old with a mustache, was wearing an orange prisoner jumpsuit and had no outward signs of injury or abuse. He did not appear nervous or fearful.
It was unclear whether the militants had the ability to carry out what would have been quite a sophisticated operation - a complicated attack far from their home base.
A US military spokesperson referred all questions about al-Qahtani to the government of Iraq.
He said the idea came up in late 2009 during talks with friends over some publications in Western media they deemed offensive to Muslims.
In 2006, 12 cartoons of the Prophet in a Danish newspaper sparked furious protests in Muslim countries.
In the Netherlands, an anti-Islam party has become the country's fastest growing political movement.
Its leader, Geert Wilders, calls the Qur'an a "fascist book" and wants it banned in the Netherlands. His 2008 short film Fitna offended many Muslims by juxtaposing Qur'anic verses with images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.
He advocated closing borders to immigrants, and taxing clothing commonly worn by Muslims, such as headscarves, because they "pollute" the Dutch landscape.
Wilders' popularity is partly a reaction to a spate of Islamic radical violence that sent shudders through the nation a few years ago. In 2004, a young Muslim from the Slotervaart neighbourhood murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had produced a short film portraying alleged oppression of Muslim women.
Al-Qahtani said the World Cup was considered a high-profile international event and South Africa was thought to be easier to travel to than either of the two European countries they wanted to target.
Plot still needed approval
The Iraqi security official said no steps had yet been taken to put the plan into motion, such as obtaining bomb-making materials.
Al-Qahtani said the plot still needed approval from the al-Qaeda chain of command, specifically the group's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Vish Naidoo, a spokesperson for the South African Police Service, said on Tuesday that South African officials were still awaiting word from their Iraqi counterparts about the arrest. He said the only information South African officials had was from media reports.
FIFA said in a statement on Tuesday it would not comment on any specific potential threats to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
US and Iraqi officials have said that the deaths of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were considered a heavy blow to the terror group and its abilities to carry out attacks.
Iraqi authorities have also said that materials obtained in their investigation and search of the safehouse where they were found has led them to other members of the organisation and provided them with valuable intelligence about the group.