Two men accused of plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper that published incendiary cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed face terrorism charges in Chicago, US officials say.
The criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday alleges that the Chicago-based men spent at least a year working with a Pakistan-based extremist group to plan an attack they dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Project.”
US and Danish officials called the plot a serious, but not immediate, threat.
“We don’t think that an attack has been immediate, but there has been very specific planning in order to carry out serious terrorist attacks in Denmark,” Jakob Scharf, the head of the Danish Security and Intelligence service, told reporters in Copenhagen.
Scharf, who noted that one of the men “has very extensive contacts with leading militant extremists in Pakistan,” said more arrests could be made.
“This case is a reminder that the threat posed by international terrorist organizations is global in nature and requires constant vigilance at home and abroad,” David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said in a statement.
The suspects were identified as David Coleman Headley, 49, a US citizen who changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, a Canadian citizen born in Pakistan.
Headley was arrested by the FBI on October 3 at Chicago O’Hare airport before boarding a flight to Pakistan via Philadelphia, the authorities said. Rana was detained on October 18 at his Chicago home.
Headley told the FBI after his arrest that he had been working with Lashkar-e-Taiba — a Pakistan-based radical Islamic group that has long fought Indian rule in divided Kashmir — since before 2006.
Editor, cartoonist targeted
He also admitted to conducting two “surveillance” trips to Denmark in January and July 2009 in which he toured the offices of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen and Arhus “in preparation for an attack,” the complaint alleges.
“Headley stated that he proposed the operation against the newspaper be reduced from attacking the entire building in Copenhagen to killing the paper’s cultural editor, Flemming Rose, and the cartoonist who drew a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, Kurt Westergaard, whom Headley felt were directly responsible for the cartoons,” the complaint alleges.
Protests over cartoon
Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s highest circulating daily, triggered a furor in the Muslim world by publishing 12 cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in 2005.
Demonstrators burned Danish flags in protests that culminated in February 2006 with the torching of Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus and Beirut and the deaths of dozens of people in Nigeria, Libya and Pakistan.
Headley is accused of launching the plot in October 2008 in a series of postings to an internet discussion group.
Rana, charged with being Headley’s accomplice, owns several businesses, including First World Immigration Services, which has offices in Chicago, New York and Toronto.
Rana is accused of helping Headley plot the attacks and using the immigration business as a cover for Headley’s travels and visit to the Jyllands-Posten, the charge sheet said.
A third alleged conspirator was identified as Ilyas Kashmiri, who the Department of Justice said is the operational chief of a Pakistani-based organization called Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami which has links to Al-Qaeda.
Long prison terms if sentenced
Two other Pakistani-based alleged conspirators were not named in the complaints.
Headley was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts involving murder and maiming outside the US, and one count of conspiracy to provide material support to that plot.
Rana was charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support for the planned attack.
If convicted, Headley faces life in prison, while Rana faces up to 15 years behind bars.
Both have been held in federal custody since their arrests.