Iraqi World Cup terror threat “a bluff”

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An alleged al-Qaeda plot against the soccer World Cup was “a bluff”, Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke says. Speaking in Cape Town, he said Interpol had investigated following the arrest in Iraq of a Saudi army officer for involvement in an alleged plot targeting the cup.

“There was an investigation launched by Interpol and some other international police agencies. I got yesterday the report saying it was just a bluff and there was nothing concrete behind this threat, the South African Press Association reported him as saying.
“The statement by al-Qaeda … just confirms what we have been working on since now weeks and months: any time a threat was coming, we check, and it’s not very strong.” On Tuesday, in a statement published on Islamist websites, al-Qaeda denied involvement in the alleged plot. “We deny this news altogether,” the statement said.

Valcke said he believed “all these threats” were made by people who were merely trying to “get some spotlight on them because the world is watching South Africa for the next 40 days”. He said the cup was the greatest sporting event in the world. “And when sport is played, you should just stop the world for a time. And that’s what’s happening. Most of the time during the World Cup there is no conflict, or there is less conflict, because people are watching TV. A lot of them are watching TV, including soldiers. It’s the wrong place to have threats. It’s the wrong place to prepare any attack.”

Last week The Associated Press reported alleged al-Qaeda militant Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtan said he had talked to friends about attacking Danish and Dutch teams – or their fans – at the World Cup. 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.

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 AP reported. “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.

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 mustache, was wearing an orange prisoner jumpsuit and had no outward signs of injury or abuse. He did not appear nervous or fearful. 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 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 Quran a “fascist book” and wants it banned in the Netherlands. His 2008 short film offended many Muslims by juxtaposing Quranic verses with images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.

He advocated 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 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.