A message of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s No. 2, broadcast by Al Jazeera on May 21, 2003, had called for reprisal attacks against the US and some of its allies for occupying Iraq.
2.The message, inter alia, said: “O Muslims, take matters firmly against the embassies of America, England, Australia, and Norway and their interests, companies, and employees. Burn the ground under their feet, as they should not enjoy your protection, safety, or security. Expel those criminals out of your countries. Do not allow the Americans, the British, the Australians, the Norwegians, and the other crusaders who killed your brothers in Iraq to live in your countries. Wreak havoc on them. ”
3.While the calls for attacks on the US, the UK and Australia were not a surprise, the call for reprisals against Norway was, since Norway was not one of the allies of the US in Iraq. It was not clear why Zawahiri included Norway in the list. There was some speculation that he might have mistaken Norway for Denmark, which had a role in Iraq.
4. Islamic anger against Denmark for the publication of some cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 extended to Norway too because some Norwegian newspapers had allegedly reproduced the cartoons. The protest demonstrations in West Asia against the cartoons were directed at some Norwegian diplomatic missions too, but there were no publicly aired threats of a terrorist attack against Norway in connection with the publication of the cartoons.
5. The terrorist threats uttered by Al Qaeda and other jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) of Pakistan were against Denmark and not Norway. Available details of the US investigation into the activities of LET operative David Coleman Headley, a US citizen of Pakistani origin living in Chicago, indicated preparations during 2009 for a terrorist strike against the Danish newspaper which had published the cartoons jointly by the LET and the so-called 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri of Pakistan based in North Waziristan. Norway did not figure in the details of the plot as indicated in the various court affidavits filed against Headley by the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
6. The Islamic Jihad Union or Group (IJU), an Uzbek group based in North Waziristan and closely allied to Al Qaeda, has some followers in Germany among persons of Turkish origin as well as white German converts to Islam. Some arrests were made in Germany in August-September 2007 in connection with investigations into the activities of the IJU and its suspected plots for terrorist strikes in Germany against German as well as American targets. There were no reports of the arrest of any Uzbek in Germany in this connection. The IJU makes its recruitment from amongst Uzbeks, Uighurs and other Central Asians. In the past, most of its recruits came from the Af-Pak and the Central Asian regions. There were no reports of any recruitment by it from amongst the Uighurs and Uzbeks living in West Europe.
7. The Norwegian police announced on July 8,2010, the arrest of three men suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda on charges of preparing terrorist attacks. One of them is a Norwegian citizen of Uighur origin. The other two are permanent residents in Norway of Uzbek and Iraqi-Kurdish origin. Two of them (the Uzbek and the Uighur) are reported to have been arrested in Norway and the third (Iraqi-Kurd with a permanent residence permit of Norway) in Germany. The Norwegian police had been keeping them under surveillance for investigation for about a year. The arrests appear to have been made even though the investigation has not yet been completed because of the leakage of the news about the investigation against them to the media. They apparently decided to arrest them before the media came out with the news.
8.Media reports indicate that the arrested persons were suspected of involvement in plots for terrorist strikes in Norway and of having links with some terrorist suspects under investigation in the US and the UK. The involvement of an Uzbek and an Uighur in this plot could indicate a possible Chinese target too. There is a small, but active Uighur community in Norway, with links to the anti-Chinese World Uighur Congress (WUC) based in Munich. The Uighurs had held a demonstration against the Chinese in Oslo last year to protest against anti-Uighur violence by the Hans in Urumqi in July last .
9.Members of the Uighur and Uzbek communities in West Europe may not normally get involved in attacking Western targets. The kind of anti-Western anger one finds in the Arabs and the Pakistanis one does not find in the Uzbeks and the Uighurs living in the West, but the Uzbeks of the IJU do nurse a strong anger against the West. It is not clear whether the reported plots in Norway were the work of Al Qaeda or its associates such as the IJU, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan. It is also not clear whether the targeting of Norway had anything to do with its role in Afghanistan as a member of the NATO forces fighting against the Taliban. Were the three arrested persons already members of any of these organisations or were they merely self-radicalised Muslims looking for sponsors?
( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )