Terrorist plots involving Salafi Jihadis are so numerous at the moment, that you could be forgiven for having missed this one:
Police in Denmark and Sweden arrested five men today on suspicion of planning a “Mumbai-style” attack on the Danish newspaper that printed cartoons portraying the prophet Muhammad.
In a series of raids, Danish police seized an automatic weapon, a silencer, ammunition and plastic strips that could be used as handcuffs, foiling what they described as the most serious terror operation ever uncovered in the country.
The men had planned to storm the Copenhagen offices housing the Jyllands-Posten newspaper and other titles and “kill as many as possible of those around”, intelligence officials said.
Denmark’s security and intelligence service (PET) said its officers had arrested four people suspected of planning the “imminent” attack. Three of them – a 44-year-old Tunisian national, a 29-year-old Lebanese-born man and a 30-year-old whose origin was not immediately known – were Swedish residents who entered Denmark late last night or early today. The other was described as a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker living in Copenhagen.
Swedish police, who had been working closely with their Danish counterparts, arrested a fifth man, a 37-year-old Swedish national of Tunisian origin living in Stockholm.
Jakob Scharf, the head of PET, described some of those arrested as “militant Islamists,” with links to international terrorist networks. He said: “An imminent terror attack has been foiled.”
Denmark’s justice minister, Lars Barfoed, said: “The group’s plans to kill as many as possible is very frightening and is probably the most serious terror attempt in Denmark.”
We now know the identities of those arrested. They include a certain Munir Awad – a man with a history:
One of five men held over a foiled plot to massacre staff at a Danish newspaper had twice been arrested abroad suspected of terror links, the foreign ministry and media said Friday.
Munir Awad, a 29-year-old Swede born in Lebanon, had publicly thanked the Swedish secret service, Saepo, for obtaining his release from Somalia where he was detained three years ago.
“We know Saepo brought us home and we are very grateful,” he told a newspaper at the time.
Swedish foreign ministry spokesman Anders Joerle confirmed the previous arrests and that Sweden had intervened on Awad’s behalf.
“Awad was arrested in Somalia by Ethiopian troops. That was in 2007. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2009,” foreign ministry spokesman Anders Joerle told AFP.
“The Swedish foreign ministry helped them. I wouldn’t say to free him, but what we did was insist that he either should be tried or set free,” he added.
Awad was one of five men arrested in Denmark and Sweden on Wednesday for hatching what Danish officials called a plan to “kill as many people as possible” in an assault on the Jyllands-Posten daily.
There is more:
When Awad was arrested in Somalia in 2007, he was travelling with his then 17-year-old pregnant wife Safia Benaouda, who is the daughter of the head of Sweden’s Muslim Council Helena Benaouda, Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet reported.
Awad told the paper in a previous interview the couple had been tortured and interrogated there before Swedish intelligence agency Saepo helped free them.
When he was arrested in Pakistan in August 2009, Awad was traveling with Benaouda and their then two-year-old son, as well as with Mehdi Ghezali, a Swede who had spent two years in Guantanamo Bay, Joerle said.
The Aftonbladet daily meanwhile reported Awad was also connected to two Swedes of Somali origin found guilty by a Swedish court earlier this month of “planning terrorist crimes” in Somalia and sentenced to four years in prison.
Awad, the paper reported, had shared an apartment in Stockholm with the two men, Mohamoud Jama, 22, and Bille Ilias Mohamed, 26, who are members of the Islamist movement Al-Shebab.
The Somali Islamist militia has declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network and controls most of southern and central Somalia.
Isn’t it funny how many people innocently blunder into Al Qaeda-led conflicts, while engaged in off piste tourism, school building, or a search from some really tasty nan bread? Awad and his pregnant wife’s story is a familiar one:
Benaouda disavows any political or religious motive for her venture into Somalia, and her boyfriend was also not political, she said.
She has long had the travel bug, she said, which she got from her Moroccan father, who died 6 years ago.
When the family traveled – she is the youngest of four – they avoided the normal tourist spots; her Finnish-Swedish mother especially sought more exotic places, she said.
“When we went to Morocco, we don’t go to Casablanca, we went to the mountains.”
Last year, Benaouda and her boyfriend, 25-year old Munir Awad, decided they wanted to visit a Muslim country during Benaouda’s winter break. They chose Dubai.
They were disappointed – too many Asians, too many modern, tall buildings, too much shopping.
“We wanted something more authentic,” she said.
They met a man from Stockholm who was going to Somalia. They knew nothing about the turmoil there, she said.
They got a two-week visa.
When they arrived, their baggage was missing. They were told they had to stay inside to be safe. They were treated badly because they were white, she said.
Then the war broke out, and they fled toward Kenya.
During their period of detention, before Sweden secured the release and repatriation of the couple, a high profile international campaign was launched. CagePrisoners and Clive Stafford Smith’s associated pressure group, Reprieve, pulled out all the stops to ensure that the story of the innocents abroad was championed by the liberal press.
The whole act was repeated, once again, two years later when the pair were arrested in Pakistan. Thomas Joscelyn of the Long War Journal takes up the story:
In August 2009, Benaouda and Awad, along with their young son, were arrested again. This time they were traveling to northern Pakistan. A former Guantanamo detainee named Mehdi Ghezali was part of their traveling party and was arrested as well.
The Swedish press has reported that Ghezali had previously served 10 months in prison in Portugal because he was suspected of burglarizing tourists and stores. He was freed and attempted to study Islam in Saudi Arabia, but failed to do so. He traveled to London where he may have studied under Omar Bakri Muhammad, a notorious jihadist preacher.
Ghezali then made his way to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he claims he stayed with family. Press reports indicate that he is suspected of staying in a notorious al Qaeda safehouse in Jalalabad instead. Ghezali was arrested in Pakistan in December 2001.
“Ghezali reportedly was part of a group of 156 suspected al-Qaida fighters caught while fleeing Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains,” according to the Associated Press.
Ghezali was sent to Guantanamo and his story became a cause for attorneys and activists in Sweden who portrayed him as a wrongly-detained innocent. In July 2004, Ghezali was transferred from Cuba to Sweden.
But the controversy surrounding Ghezali was not over. Five years after he left Gitmo, Ghezali, along with Awad, Benouada, and nine others, was detained in northern Pakistan. The group had traveled through Iran, and one member of the entourage was an Iranian.
Shortly thereafter, another Muslim Swede, Sahbi Zalouti, was arrested in the same area of Pakistan. Zalouti was also picked up this week in connection with the plot against Jyllands-Posten.
Through their attorneys, Benaouada, Awad, and Ghezali all professed their innocence, claiming they were simply on a pilgrimage to a “larger Pakistani city” in order to celebrate Ramadan.
Pakistani authorities claimed otherwise.
Expressen, a Swedish newspaper, reported that the group may have had the Danish embassy in Islamabad in its sights. A bomb belt, $10,000 in cash stuffed in diapers, maps, and other “detailed information” concerning Western embassies were reportedly found in the group’s possession. If this is true, then it is possible the group had planned an operation similar to the plot againstJyllands-Posten, targeting the Danish embassy as retribution for the controversial cartoons.
The Local explains that the “Swedes were part of a group of foreigners thought by Pakistani police to be travelling in the company of a terror suspect who was bringing the group to the lawless region of northern Waziristan to meet Zahir Noor, a suspected Taliban leader.”
According to yet another Swedish publication, Aftonbladet, “the group’s 20-year-old Pakistani guide exposed the Swedes, and confessed to having had the task of taking them to a local leader with connections to al-Qaida.”
And in an interview with the Associated Press after the arrests, Mohammad Rizwan, a Pakistani police chief, described Ghezali as “a very dangerous man.”
The case of Monir Awad, a Swedish citizen of joint Palestinian and Lebanese decent, is an extremely interesting case study of the global detention network in the War on Terror which has come into existence since 2001. His case individually highlights nearly every aspect of this network and the specificities of its various permutations. These specificities include everything from detention without charge and the failure to produce any prima facie case for it, profiling, rendition, refoulement, abuse and torture whilst in detention, proxy prisons, the complicity of foreign security services in these detentions and lastly attempts to force links in interrogation between prisoners and Al-Qaeda. The case of Monir Awad highlights all these points, and how this system is beyond the law, operates with impunity, and with either the knowledge or at the behest of western governments and most importantly the injustice and human rights abuses it perpetrates.
CagePrisoners also objected to one particular feature of the reporting of the arrests in the Swedish press:
The media even went as far as to print pictures of Safia Benaouda without her hijab (a serious affront to a Muslim women)
And now Awad has been arrested again, on suspicion of plotting to carry out a terrorist massacre of journalists.
We will have to wait for the outcome of the forthcoming criminal trial, before we can be certain of his guilt. However, if he is convicted, don’t think that this will be a setback for CagePrisoners. It won’t be.
CagePrisoners is financed by a grant from the Quaker charity, the Rowntree Trust. Remind yourself of the purpose of that grant:
Instead of working for “reconciliation”, CagePrisoners have used the money in order to campaigned for detained jihadists. Indeed, it is clear that Moazzam Begg regards his work as a contribution to jihad. In an article in Arches Quarterly – published by the Muslim Brotherhood front organisation, the Cordoba Institute – Begg explained:
Jihad using wealth is also obligatory in securing the release of Muslim prisoners.
Reading CagePrisoners output, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the primary objection to the detention of those suspected of being combatants in jihadist conflicts is not the absence of process rights, or their mistreatment, and the many other serious questions which all liberals should raise when individuals are detained in any circumstances. Rather, the concern is that these jihadists have been prevented from fighting in a “just war”.
Do the Rowntree Trust have a problem with this? No they do not.
Will this deter Amnesty from working with CagePrisoners? No it will not.
What about the press? Well, if you rely on a newspaper like the Guardian for enlightenment, you’ll have no inkling that there is any problem at all. By way of comparison, the Guardian ran stories about the plight of Abu Rideh, a CagePrisoners and Amnesty pin up who was prevented leaving Britain “to join my family” by a control order. It ran article after article on the man, as he struggled to escape detention, to avoid his control order, and then to seek compensation from the British Government.
Strangely, the Guardian is yet to report on their former favourite’s death in December in an Al Qaeda camp.
This is the way it goes. CagePrisoners has been given respectability by the likes of Clive Stafford Smith, Amnesty and the Rowntree Trust. Its reports are turned into human interest stories which promote the Salafi Jihadi narrative of “Muslims victimised” and “Islam under attack” by newspapers like the Indie, the Guardian and the New York Times. Having nailed their colours to the mast, these institutions are simply unprepared either to admit their mistake or retreat one iota from their previous positions, even in the face of the clearest evidence that their partners are linked closely to a Salafi Jihadi network. Awlaki, Abdulmuttalab, Abu Rideh, and now Awad – it makes no difference. The reaction to Gita Sahgal, which culminated in the interim Secretary General, Claudio Cordone, stating that the concept of “defensive jihad” – which prominent CagePrisoners officers promote to support those who are fighting to return the Taliban to power – was not antithetical to human rights.
The response of a number of progressive and liberal institutions to the challenge of Salafi Jihadi politics and terrorism has been woeful. We have been very very lucky indeed that the response of the security services has been so much better.