The alleged al-Qaida leader accused of plotting to attack next month’s football World Cup in South Africa claimed he had merely sketched notes for the idea and given them to a senior Iraqi militant, but had not heard back from him.
Abdullah Azzam Salih Misfar said his plans had not progressed past a wish list phase and stemmed from on-going attempts to find a way to punish Denmark for the publication by a Danish cartoonist two years ago of images of the prophet Muhammad. “It was only an idea to blow up the World Cup in South Africa,” Saudi-born Misfar said in an interview in Baghdad today. “I wrote the idea and sent it to Abu Hamza.”
Hamza, a senior al-Qaida leader in Iraq who was also known as Abu Ayub al-Masri, was killed last month. “It was relayed through other men, but I didn’t get a reply,” Misfar said.
Misfar’s comments appear to have poured cold water over a major security scare on the eve of the World Cup.
Iraqi security chiefs made the shock claim that Misfar planned to target the World Cup in a press conference in Baghdad yesterday, leading to frantic phone calls from South African organisers.
Planning was said to have gone as high as the world’s second most wanted man, al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
But Misfar denied that today. “I did not have any contact with Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abu Omer al-Baghdadi. My link was through the Baghdad chief, his name was Munaf al-Rawi.” Misfar, 30, said he was a mid-ranking al-Qaida leader who had been in Iraq since 2004.
Many alleged al-Qaida leaders or senior operatives have been killed or captured in the past two months, most stemming from the capture of Rawi, who was a Baghdad gopher for the terror organisation and a key link in a chain that relayed messages to and from the leaders.
Al-Qaida in Iraq this week announced it had appointed two new leaders to replace Masri and Baghdadi and vowed an escalation in bloodshed to avenge their deaths.
Misfir said al-Qaida in Iraq was now low in cash and he confirmed widespread suspicions that a spate of robberies of gold shops and moneychangers late last year was an attempt to get funds for subsequent terror plots.
Misfir today made a full statement to an Iraqi television station, al-Hurra, which will air tomorrow after first being viewed by government agents. He answered questions asked by the Guardian about the alleged World Cup plot.
Iraqi authorities have cast al-Qaida as a small but resolute band of operatives without the means to spark a new round of sectarian bloodletting, but who hope to wear down by attrition the government’s shaky security credentials ahead of the US withdrawal from Iraq.
An intelligence report received by Iraq this week shows a stronger than expected flow of foreign jihadis from the north-east Syrian border into northern Iraq.
The supply of reinforcements through Syria has been largely responsible for the numbers of foreign fighters in Iraq.
The US military and Iraqi forces have mounted repeated operations to block the area’s numerous ravines and valleys, but the report suggests that would-be militants are still finding a way through. Guardian.co.uk