Jihadi online publication calls for attacks on newspapers that ran Danish cartoons 'to avenge the Prophet'
May 7, 2006
Online Magazine Hints at Attacks on Papers that Ran Muhammad Caricatures
The publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad caused outrage and violence across the Muslim world several months ago. Now a militant Muslim group with a presence in Germany and other European nations has published a list of newspapers that reprinted the cartoons, urging Muslims to take action against Western journalists.
The next paragraph describes how another major Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a series of 12 cartoons representing the founder of Islam. In the second paragraph, the authors become more explicit, describing the newspaper as an "extremist crusader's paper" controlled by Denmark's "ruling party."
At the end of the article, the authors formulate a call to violence that may seem roundabout at first, but which is unlikely to be misinterpreted by the online journal's readership. It's not a matter of a single newspaper, the authors write, but rather one "of international significance." The gist of the article is this: Something needs to be done, the prophet must be avenged.
The publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad by the Danish newspaper in September eventually sparked violent demonstration in the Islamic world, where millions were offended by the caricatures. European consulates were set on fire in Damascus and Beirut, people were killed at demonstrations in Afghanistan, and Danish products were boycotted for weeks in the Middle East. Then things quieted down again and the crisis seemed to have passed. But has it?
A special issue of the online journal of Ansar al-Sunna, which means "Supporters of Sunni Islam," could respark the flames. The online journal has taken the unprecedented step of listing dozens of European newspapers that reprinted the Muhammad cartoons. The list includes German dailies such as Die Tageszeitung, the Berliner Zeitung, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt.
Terrorism experts who follow the site believe the journal's authors are trying to motivate potential assasins to engage in acts of retaliation. There's nothing new about this tactic. Terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri don't give orders to engage in specific terrorist attacks. Instead, they orchestrate Islamist violence by means of violent demagoguery, counting on their followers to act on their own initiative.
Stoking the fire
The remarks on the cartoon scandal in Ansar al-Sunna fit the pattern exactly. "While it may prove difficult to make all Muslims carry out the divine verdict in this matter," the authors write, "the path of jihad against the enemies of God is still available."
The example the authors offer to potential jihadists is particularly cynical. Commenting on the murder of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, they note in a cool tone that by making "Submission," which they consider to be anti-Islamic, the director prompted Muhammad Buyeri to kill him.
Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's second in command, got the ball rolling several weeks ago: "The next thing I want to talk to you about is the hatred of Western crusaders, directed at the honorable prophet Muhammad," the Egyptian said in a recent message. "This attack forces us to make a risky decision: Are we prepared to sacrifice ourselves and everything we own on the way of God or not?" He continued by citing the attacks on New York, London and Madrid as examples of how the West might be punished.
In mid-April, bin Laden himself commented on the cartoons. "I urge you to support our prophet Muhammad," he said in a recorded message to Muslims. Bin Laden demanded the punishment "of those responsible for this terrible crime, committed by a handful of crusader journalists and others who have fallen from the faith."
"We thought it was over"
With its missive, Ansar al-Sunna has joined a growing chorus of militant voices. It's a development that deeply concerns terrorism experts. "We thought everything was over, but they're stoking the fire," sources within the German security establishment say. "Given what is happening, you have to assume there will be reactions from militants in the countries cited by Ansar, or against journalists from those countries," says Guido Steinberg, a terrorism expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "This kind of publication, backed by a large transnational terrorist organization, is dangerous."
Steinberg points out that Ansar al-Sunna has a network of militants already on the ground in Germany, Scandinavia and Italy. The founder of Ansar al-Islam, the organization out of which Ansar al-Sunna developed, lives in Norway. In recent years, Ansar followers have been caught trafficking militants in and out of Iraq from Italy and Germany. The Iraqi exiles thought to have planned an assassination attempt on Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in Berlin last year come from the same network. For a time, it is also believed that the Ansar al-Sunna Web site was run from Germany. And it can't be coincidence that so many newspapers from these countries have been listed -- it seems likely that followers residing from these countries contributed information. According to Germany's domestic intelligence service, there are roughly 100 Ansar al-Sunna followers here.
Still, it remains unclear how many of those militants actually read the online journal or if they would actually be prepared or willing to conduct terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, today's terrorist networks are decentralized and don't operate by giving specific orders. Suggesting targets, as Ansar al-Islam has done, could inspire the freelance terrorists who have been responsible for attacks on major European cities.
"It's our duty to increase our efforts to correct the wayward thinking of some Muslims and show what the 'religion of democracy' really means," the authors of the online journal write, adding that the task of every jihadist is "to follow the way of the prophet and take up the struggle against the enemies of religion."