The Danish Mohammed Cartoons and the Failed German Train Bombings
by Lorenzo Vidino
September 4, 2006
With the attention focused on Great Britain and the disturbing number of operations Scotland Yard has carried out over the last three weeks, few have paid attention to the alleged plot to detonate explosives on German trains. On July 31 German authorities discovered two suitcases filled with explosives on two commuter trains leaving Cologne, coming to the conclusion that only a defect in the detonators prevented a tragedy like those of Madrid or London. Thanks to images captured by surveillance cameras inside the Cologne station, one of the men who had left the suitcases, Youssef Mohamad El Hajdib, was picked up on August 19 in the northern German city of Kiel, while the other, Jihad Hamad, was arrested a few days later in Lebanon.
German authorities began to investigate (with, so far, conflicting results) whether the two young Lebanese students acted alone or were part of a group/network. Moreover, what motivated them? Clearly Germany, a NATO country with troops in Afghanistan and a solid friendship with the United States (see recent reports that German intel helped the US during the invasion of Iraq, despite Berlin's official opposition to the conflict) represents a potential target of jihadist groups. Yet the failed attack puzzled most Germans, leaving them wondering what drove the two Lebanese exchange students to such an act.
Just two days ago Jihad Hamad told interrogators in Lebanon that the main motivation for the attacks were the cartoons published by Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands Posten last September, something the two interpreted "as an attack of the Western world on Islam." The man also mentioned the war in Lebanon and Zarqawi's death as reasons, but indicated the cartoons as the main one (one is left to wonder why the two targeted Germany and not Denmark, despite the fact that the Danish border is only a few dozens miles away from where the bombers lived).
But the links between the failed attacks and the Danish cartoons seem to go beyond that. Today Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported the news that one of the bombers, El Hajdib, was linked to the Danish imam Abu Bashar. According to the German BKA, when El Hajdib was arrested he was found in possession of a train ticket to the Danish city of Odense, where Bashar lives, and the cleric's phone number. The BKA suspects that El Hajdib was supposed to hide in Odense with Abu Bashar's help before reaching relatives in Sweden. Contacted by journalists, Abu Bashar denied any knowledge of the case.
But who is this Abu Bashar? Unknown to most outside Denmark, he is well known to Danes for having led the first delegation of Danish imams that toured the Middle East (specifically, Abu Bashar went to Egypt, while others went to the Levant) with the infamous dossier containing the original 12 cartoons and other that had been fabricated by the imams. Together with Abu Laban and Raed Hlayhels, Abu Bashar headed the efforts of the radical imams to internationalize the cartoon controversy, and even appeared on BBC with one of the fabricated cartoons.
A train ticket and phone number are not enough to prove a link. The case will be further investigated and, in all likelihood, no charges will be filed against Abu Bashar (even if the link between the two is established it would be quite difficult to prove Abu Bashar's involvement in the attack). Yet it is another indication of the milieu from which those who created and manipulated the Danish cartoon controversy originate.
EDIT: Late last night Danish police arrested nine men in Odense, suspecting they were planning a terrorist act. Police claim to have physical evidence that the suspects were attempting to build a bomb and that surveillance information indicated a terror action was imminent. According to Danish authorities, the arrests have no connections to the German train bombings.