Seven arrests over alleged plot to kill Swedish cartoonist

 

GARDAÍ HAVE arrested seven people as part of an international investigation into an alleged plot to kill a Swedish artist who produced a series of sketches depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.

The suspects, four men and three women, are being held at Garda stations in counties Waterford and Kilkenny.

They were arrested during a major search operation at 10 addresses in Waterford and Cork yesterday morning.

Detectives in Ireland have been working on the case since late last year with their counterparts in the US and Europe, including Sweden.

Those arrested yesterday are from Algeria, Croatia, Palestine, Libya and the US. They are aged in their mid-20s to late-40s.

The Irish Times understands the suspects were taken into custody on the basis of information supplied to the Garda by the FBI that came to light after surveillance of the suspects’ communications, including e-mails.

The US investigators believe the alleged leader of the group is one of the Algerian men. He has been living in Ireland for the past decade.

Lars Vilks, the artist at the centre of the alleged murder conspiracy, was put under police protection in 2007 after his drawings prompted al-Qaeda to put a $100,000 bounty on his head.

The sketches, originally produced for exhibition, were later published by Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda, to accompany an editorial criticising galleries in Sweden for refusing to show them.

Muslims in countries such as Pakistan and Iran reacted with fury to the images, which were considered particularly offensive as dogs are viewed as unclean by many Muslims.

The newspaper editorial defended “Muslims’ right to freedom of religion” but argued it should not impinge on the right to “ridicule Islam’s foremost symbols – just like all other religions’ symbols”.

The publication in Denmark of cartoons lampooning Muhammad, including one depicting him wearing a turban shaped as a bomb, provoked violent protests in several countries in 2006.

The Swedish artist told the Associated Press he believed that the arrests in Ireland were linked to two death threats he received by telephone in January.

The threats came from “a Swedish-speaking Somali”, said Mr Vilks, who is currently resident in Sweden. Garda sources said the arrests carried out here related to a plan to kill Mr Vilks in his native Sweden.

“At no time has anyone in this country ever been under threat,” said one Garda source.

A group of more than 60 gardaí from Waterford and Cork were involved in yesterday’s searches of residential and business premises. They were backed by members of specialist Dublin-based Garda units including the anti-terrorism Special Detective Unit.

The premises raided were in Waterford city and Tramore and in Ballincollig, Co Cork. Computers, mobile phones, discs and documents were taken away for analysis.

However, no firearms or explosives or any other hazardous material was found. It is not known how far the alleged assassination plot had progressed.

Garda sources who spoke to The Irish Timessaid none of those arrested has any known links to al-Qaeda or any other militant group.

The suspects are being detained under Section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act at Garda stations in Waterford, Tramore, Dungarvan and Thomastown in Kilkenny. They can be held for up to seven days without charge.