“How does it feel?”
It wasn’t the unforgettable line from Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ That’s not what the reporter had in mind. No, she wanted to know what it feels like to be a potential target of a terrorist attack.
“It hasn’t changed my life, and won’t, because that is exactly what they want. They want to intimidate and threaten,” I told her.
Yesterday one of the four defendants in a terror case in Odense, Denmark’s third largest city, revealed in court that in the summer of 2006 a fellow conspirator had suggested building a remote-controlled car bomb and driving it into my private home in order to kill me.
The reason: the publication of 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in my newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
“It was a bit of a joke, and we laughed a little, though I know that it wasn’t a laughing matter,” the defendant said.
Joke or no joke, the defendant acknowledged that in fact two men from the cell had a bit earlier detonated a bomb in a soccer field using a cell phone as the remote control. The purpose of this activity was to excercise their “craft.”
The defendant is a 34-year-old Danish-born man who converted to Islam. He has provided the police with a lot of compromising information about the other three members of the cell. The convert told the police that AK, a 22 year old man born in Iraq, travelled to his home country in 2005 to become a suicide terrorist. The young man insists that he went to shoot a documentary.
“He told me that he had shot a goodbye video in the mosque,” the convert explained in court.
On February 6, at the height of the cartoon crisis, the 22 year old AK wrote on the Al Qaeda affiliated website www.alfirdaws.org under the headline “From Denmark. Help us killing those who have blasphemed the Prophet”:
I am looking for poison that kills quickly. I’ll do it myself, and Allah is my witness.
Praising Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi, he offered to sacrifise himself in the war against the infidels:
Revenge, revenge. I am the first volunteer. God is great.
The young man accused the Danish government of being allied with the Jews and denounced Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as a dog, because during the cartoon crisis he had refused to meet the ambassadors from the Muslim world who had called for the punishment of Jyllands-Posten for publishing the Mohammed cartoons.
According to the police, the cell had been radicalized by early 2005. They were downloading bomb manuals, watching videos of beheadings of hostages and discussing several possible attacks. One involved the Danish parliament, another was directed at the office of Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen and a third was aimed at an unnamed cartoonist. They had been buying fertilizers and other material used to build bombs, but they were not very professional.
A Danish expert on terror told me that is one pattern the process of radicalization follows. The first stage involves a lot of talking and watching videos and downloading material from the internet. Then the radicals start looking for possible targets, sometimes jokingly, sometimes not.
It may sound strange, but my wife didn’t understand the joke about the car bomb and our house, though I have to say that she usually has a fine sense of humor. And she made it clear that our neighbors probably wouldn’t find it very funny either. In fact, the neighbors of Ayaan Hirsi Ali forced her out of her apartment in Holland in 2006, insisting that she was a threat to their safety. Fortunately, it hasn’t come that far in our neighborhood. People are very friendly, and we haven’t heard any complaints.
The four men on trial were arrested in September 2006 in a big police operation. The trial is a test for Denmark’s new law against terrorism, and for the police methods of planting an agent inside a cell of radical Muslims. How far can a police agent go in order to play along with other members of a terror cell? It’s also the first case that involves a reading of Islam that justifies terrorist attacks by referring to the war in Iraq and the publication of the Mohammed cartoons.