World Cup terror plot detailed

2010-05-19 09:11

An alleged al-Qaeda militant detained in Iraq said he had talked to

friends about attacking Danish and Dutch teams at the 2010 Fifa World Cup in

South Africa next month to avenge insults against the Prophet Muhammad.

Iraqi security forces holding the 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 figures in Iraq – Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar


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 a plan to launch attacks at the World Cup,

led to his arrest on May 3, the official said.

Iraqi authorities made it public

on Monday.

Al-Qahtani said: “We discussed the possibility of taking revenge

for the insults of the prophet by attacking Denmark and Holland. The goal was to

attack the Danish and the Dutch teams and their fans.

“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.

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.

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-Zawahri.

The alleged militant, who is about 30 years old with a moustache,

was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and had no outward signs of injury or


Al-Qahtani said he had been captured by US forces in 2007 and held

at Camp Bucca until he was released in 2009.

A US military official, Keli Chevalier, confirmed that American

forces had captured a man by the name of Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani and that

he was held at Camp Bucca.

The US military referred all other questions about al-Qahtani to

the Iraqi government.

Al-Qahtani said the idea came up in late 2009 during talks with

friends over some publications in Western media they deemed offensive to


In 2006, 12 cartoons of the prophet in a Danish newspaper sparked

furious protests in Muslim countries.

‘Easier to travel to SA’

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.

Vish Naidoo, a spokesperson for the South African Police Service,

said yesterday 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 it would not comment on any specific

potential threats.

US and Iraqi officials have said the deaths of al-Masri and

al-Baghdadi were considered a heavy blow to the al-Qaeda network and its

abilities to carry out attacks.

Iraqi authorities have also said that materials obtained in their

investigation and search of the safe house where al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were

found has led them to other members of the organisation and provided them with

valuable intelligence about the group.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has coordinated attacks with leaders like

al-Zawahri in the past, said Brett McGurk of the Council on Foreign Relations in

New York.

McGurk said: “What would be a surprise is if al-Qaeda in Iraq was

able to carry out an attack on this scale internationally given its weakened

state in Iraq.”

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