Stockholm – Two days after five men were arrested over a foiled plot to massacre staff at a Danish newspaper, new details emerged Friday linking at least one of the suspects to Islamist extremists.
The five were arrested Wednesday for hatching what Danish officials called a plan to “kill as many people as possible” in an assault on the Jyllands-Posten daily, which sparked violent protests with its 2005 publication of a dozen cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
A Stockholm court said one of the five arrested in the Swedish capital was Sahbi Zalouti, a 37-year-old Swede of Tunisian origin.
Danish intelligence agency PET has identified one man based in Denmark as a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker living in the Copenhagen suburb of Greve. He was freed Thursday but is still suspected of being connected to the plot.
The three men arrested in another suburb were all based in Sweden and had driven to the Danish capital overnight Tuesday.
They have been officially identified only as a 44-year-old Tunisian, a 29-year-old Swede born in Lebanon, and a 30-year-old Swede.
Both Danish and Swedish media have however provided the names and backgrounds of the men, identifying the Denmark-based Iraqi as Abdullah Muhammed Salman and the three residents of Sweden as Mounir Dhahri, Munir Awad and Omar Abdalla Aboelazm.
Most of the media focus has been on Awad, 29, who Sweden’s foreign ministry confirmed has been arrested twice before abroad suspected of terrorist links.
“Awad was arrested in Somalia by Ethiopian troops. That was in 2007. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2009,” foreign ministry spokesman Anders Joerle told AFP.
When he was arrested in Somalia, Awad was travelling with his then 17-year-old pregnant wife Safia Benaouda, who is the daughter of the head of Sweden’s Muslim Council Helena Benaouda, Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet reported.
Awad told the paper in a previous interview the couple had been tortured and interrogated there and that Swedish intelligence agency Saepo had helped free them.
“We know Saepo brought us home and we are very grateful,” he said.
When he was arrested in Pakistan in August 2009, Awad was travelling with Benaouda and there two-year-old son, as well as with Mehdi Ghezali, a Swede who had spent two years in Guantanamo Bay, Joerle confirmed.
“The Swedish foreign ministry helped them. I wouldn’t say to free him, but what we did was insist that he either should be tried or set free,” Joerle explained.
Zalouti, arrested in Stockholm Wednesday, had also previously been arrested in Pakistan for entering the country illegally.
The Aftonbladet daily meanwhile reported that Awad was connected to two Swedes of Somali origin who were found guilty by a Swedish court earlier this month of “planning terrorist crimes” in Somalia.
Awad, the paper reported, had shared an apartment in Stockholm with the two men, Mohamoud Jama, 22, and Bille Ilias Mohamed, 26, who are members of the Islamist movement Al-Shebab, which has declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and controls most of southern and central Somalia.
Jyllands-Posten and Swedish Expressen reported meanwhile that David Headley, who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks and had reportedly been preparing several attacks in the Danish capital, had been in contact with a businessman in Stockholm not arrested Wednesday who may have been the mastermind behind the foiled operation.