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Joseph Barrak (AFP/Getty Images)

Insult to intelligence

A familiar face is orchestrating the violent reaction of some Muslims to Danish cartoon caricatures of Muhammad

Issue: "Tighter lips?," Feb. 18, 2006

A familiar face is orchestrating the violent reaction of some Muslims to Danish cartoon caricatures of Muhammad. Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Muslim cleric with ties to terrorists, who fled London last August in fear of a post-7/7 bombing arrest, helped to launch the anti-Denmark demonstrations from his outpost in Beirut after the BBC showed brief images of the cartoons on its evening news bulletin Feb. 2.

Overnight an organization led by Mr. Bakri called "al Ghurabaa" ("the Strangers") published on its website an edict against Denmark titled "Kill those who insult Muhammad." The eight-paragraph condemnation remained posted on the group's homepage even after the violence it incited had killed at least five and injured dozens.

In Mr. Bakri's Beirut the largest mob, numbering in the thousands, torched the Danish embassy and later the Swedish embassy. Mr. Bakri, who was depicted on WORLD's Aug. 20, 2005 cover ("Beyond hate speech"), told the BBC: "In Islam, God said, and the messenger Muhammad said, whoever insults a prophet, he must be punished and executed. [The cartoonist] should be put on trial and . . . executed."

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Mr. Bakri has other reasons to dislike Denmark. In December a case involving a five-man terror cell went before a Danish court, which quickly ruled to further detain the suspects after prosecutors presented a convincing portrayal of the cell recruiting suicide bombers with plans to carry out attacks in the Netherlands and perhaps elsewhere in Europe. At one point, according to prosecutors, four of the five defendants, along with four recruits, journeyed to London to meet with Mr. Bakri.

Mr. Bakri also is connected to an April 2003 bombing in Tel Aviv, where a British resident named Omar Sharif tried to detonate himself in an Israeli bar. His companion's bomb did go off, killing three and injuring 65. Mr. Sharif fled the scene but turned up dead in the Mediterranean days later. Police found Mr. Bakri's cell phone number on notes from a lecture on suicide bombing in Mr. Sharif's home in suburban London. In a case also brought to trial late last year, prosecutors gave evidence suggesting Mr. Sharif attended a Bakri-run mosque and was another of his jihadist recruits.

Those two cases suggest an important undercurrent to riots that are certainly about more than cartooning. In the Danish case Mr. Bakri's terrorist comrades may be headed for long jail terms, thanks to the admission of extensive wiretapping and surveillance evidence collected by Danish authorities. Mr. Bakri's calls for killing are not angry pleas for justice but elaborate coverings to avoid it. They come at a time when lawmakers in the United States and Europe are debating how to crack down on the terror food chain, and they seek to distract authorities in the West from forward motion on new counterterrorism drives.


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