The Never Ending "Cartoon Crisis"


One of the least surprising revelations to come out of the latest tranche of WikiLeaks cables is that the Syrian government, led by the supposedly secular Baathist Bashar al-Assad, helped arrange anti-Danish and anti-Norwegian riots in 2006 in response to the publication of the now-infamous "Mohammad cartoons."  According to a cable from the U.S. embassy in Damascus, the Assad government "allowed these demonstrations to occur and almost certainly helped to facilitate them at the beginning," a point made contemporaneously by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the State Department (in a 2006 report on religious freedom in Syria), and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But it's also important to remember that as embassies burned, the Bush administration offered, in the words of Tim Cavanaugh, a "craven condemnation of an affair that is none of their business."

In related news, Danish police today announced the arrest of five people today on terrorism charges. According to Sky News, the men, most of whom had obtained residency in Sweden, were planning an "imminent" attack on the headquarters of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that first published the cartoons.

The Danish Intelligence Agency PET said that three of the four men it arrested were Swedish residents who entered the country on Tuesday night.

It identified them as a 44-year-old Tunisian citizen, a 29-year-old Lebanese-born man and a 30-year-old Swedish resident whose origin was not immediately known.

The fourth suspect was a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker living in Copenhagen, while the man arrested in Stockholm was described as a 37-year-old Swede of Tunisian background.

Jacob Scharf, head of PET, said the arrests had stopped "an imminent terror attack", adding that the suspects had allegedly planned to "kill as many people as possible".

Alas, nothing new here. The suicide bomber who blew himself up (prematurely) earlier this month in Stockholm was, according to police, on his way to a newspaper that published a Mohammad cartoon by Swedish artist Lars Vilks. In 2008, three men were arrested in connection with a plot to kill Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist responsible for the famous Mohammad-with-bomb-in-turban illustration. In January, a Somali man broke into Westergaard's house wielding an axe; the 75 year-old artist escaped into a panic room and Danish police shot the attacker. In September, two men were arrested in Norway for planning a bomb attack against Jyllands-Posten. Also in September, an explosion in a Copenhagen hotel (which I blogged here) turned out to be a letter bomb being assembled by a one-legged Chechen boxer. The target? Would you believe that is was Jyllands-Posten?

Last week, Danish journalists Lars Hvidberg and Jacob Mchangama looked at the so-called cartoon crisis five years later.