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Friday 26 May 2017

Seven held over al-Qa'ida 'plot' to murder cartoonist

Tom Brady and Ralph Riegel

Eight computers seized in garda raids yesterday are to be scrutinised today in a bid to find vital clues to an alleged plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist who is under threat from al-Qa'ida.

Last night detectives were questioning seven Muslims as part of an international investigation into a conspiracy to murder the cartoonist Lars Vilks, whose drawing depicting the prophet Mohammad with the body of a dog created uproar two-and-a-half years ago.

The seven -- four men and three women -- were detained in dawn raids on seven houses, an office and a bakery by gardai from the south-eastern region and the Special Branch.

Five of them were arrested in Waterford city and Tramore and the other two were detained in Ballincollig in Co Cork.

The raids were the culmination of an intelligence-led operation which began last October and involved close co-operation with the FBI, the CIA, British security agencies and the Swedish security police, Sapo.

The international operation was set up after intelligence indicated that a group were planning to either shoot or blow up Mr Vilks, who has been the target of a spate of death threats since his cartoon was published in a Swedish newspaper.

Last night, Mr Vilks (63) told the Irish Independent that he had not received any information about the arrests from the Swedish police.

"A month ago Sapo told me there was an increased level of threat against me," he said. He pointed out that he was not scared when he heard about the plot.

"I don't get upset about these things. And I regret nothing," he added.

"I have prepared in different ways and I have an axe here in case someone should manage to get in through the window."

In January Mr Vilks received a telephone threat from a man, who spoke with a Swedish accent, from a Somalian number and that resulted in increased security at his home.

"I have installed a defence system in my home and the police are patrolling here from time to time," he said. "And I am always trying to identify strange sounds as I live in a pretty isolated place."

Asylum

All seven suspects are living here legally and most of them either have asylum status or are waiting for their applications to be processed. Three of them are Algerians and the others include an American woman, a Palestinian, a Libyan and a Croatian. Some of them are understood to have converted to the Muslim faith.

The main suspect is a 49-year-old Algerian, who is unemployed. He has been living here for the past 10 years and has an Irish passport. He lived in Cork for several years and then moved to Waterford. He is living with the American woman.

The other two Algerians were detained in the 7am Cork raids.

The seven were being questioned last night at garda stations in Waterford, Tramore, Dungarvan and Thomastown, under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows gardai to hold them without charge for seven days.

Senior anti-terrorist officers said last night there was no evidence linking the suspects to the al-Qa'ida network, which had previously offered a reward of $100,000 (€74,000) for the murder of Mr Vilks.

The raids followed an exchange of information between the various police forces and agencies and monitoring of telephone and email traffic. Sixty officers were involved in the overall searches and raids.

As well as the computers, gardai also seized a number of mobile phones and a small quantity of documentation.

The computers will be examined closely today by specialists in an effort to unearth further information about the terror plot.

Members of the national surveillance unit were also involved in the lead-up to yesterday's raids, which were co-ordinated by the garda crime and security branch at the Phoenix Park.

Regular surveillance on suspected international terrorists is carried out by gardai from the force's Middle Eastern desk and military intelligence.

Irish Independent

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