02 January 2010

Somali Man Attempts to Assassinate Famous Danish Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard

Nearly five years after drawing a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped keffiyeh, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and the Jyllands-Posten Daily are still a target for radical Muslims. Last night a 28-year-old Somali man stormed into the home of Mr. Westergaard wielding an ax and a knife. Both Mr. Westergaard and his granddaughter were saved after pulling an alarm and fleeing to a bathroom that had been outfitted as a safe room. Danish police were on scene shortly thereafter and shot the assailant twice, in the hand and knee, after he also threatened the responding Aarhus police. Danish authorities are withholding the name of the Somali assailant, who appears to have legal permanent residency in Denmark after winning an asylum case. The assailant reportedly has ties to both al Shabaab and al Qaeda leadership in East Africa, and was under surveillance by Danish Intelligence, PET, for terror-related activities in East Africa. For more information on the terrorist attack in Aarhus, click here and here.

This is the most serious of three recent planned attacks on Mr. Westergaard. In 2008, PET disrupted an assassination plot by two Tunisians and a Dane. In October, David Headley (formerly Daood Gilani) and Tahawwur Hussain Rana were arrested for plotting to kill Mr. Westergaard and assisting Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Mumbai assault in November 2008 (click here for Pat’s 27 November post on LeT, and here for my 10 December post on Headley’s proceedings). What hopefully will come out of PET’s interrogations of the Somali assailant will be his operational links to either al Shabaab and/or al Qaeda. The assailant likely lacks direct ties to AQ proper; instead, he most likely fought for al Shabaab against the TFG and AMISOM, and returned to Denmark to assist in fundraising and recruitment from the large Somali diaspora in Northern Europe.

Even more important is where the planning and clearance for the attack came from. If the attack orders did indeed come from al Qaeda proper, this attack represents another example of the assertions my colleague DP made in his 28 and 30 December posts that AQ’s future attacks will be smaller, quicker, and harder to detect. If the planning and orders came internally from al Shabaab, it represents a new chapter in the growth of al Shabaab: the capability to carry out transnational attacks. The group's transnational desires are well documented. In October, al Shabaab threatened to attack Uganda, in November formed an al Quds Brigade to target Israel and Israeli interests (nothing has been heard from since this Brigade was supposedly stood up, so the statement was likely designed more for capturing international Islamic support than anything else), and in December offered to send a fresh batch of trained recruits to Yemen in support of AQAP. Also likely tied to al Shabaab was a December kidnapping attempt of a Catholic Nun in Northeastern Kenya. More likely in the case of Mr. Westergaard is that the assailant contacted his al Shabaab handler(s) and offered to prosecute the attack, and strictly received blessing for the attack from the Somali terror group’s leadership, not specific operational guidance.

More to follow as the court case develops, assuming I can find information in English, or learn Danish very quickly.

UPDATE 1: Most of the major news agencies are reporting that the man arrested in Aarhus was also arrested by Kenyan authorities in September, either for incomplete travel documents or plotting to assassinate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her August trip. For background information on this story, check out Foreign Policy’s post here. Make sure you read Stacyx’s comments at the bottom of the page, where he/she questions the veracity of the initial report from The Australian.

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