al-Qaeda’s Feud with Denmark

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Denmark is a relatively small country, with a population of 5.7 million. But it is relatively wealthy, being the 35th largest economy in the world, producing more goods and services than Malaysia, Israel or the Philippines. Its military is more important than the country’s small size would suggest, since it is well supplied with fighter jets.

The country is clearly in al-Qaeda’s sights, and not only because of the Jyllands Posten publication in 2005 2007 of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. A Danish secret agent Morten Storm, went public with claims that he was key to tracking down Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born propagandist for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen. On the basis of Storm’s information, he says, the US were able to launch drone strikes against al-Awlaki and to kill him in September, 2011. AQAP therefore has a vendetta against Denmark. The country also supported the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq, so that Daesh / ISIL sympathizers have an animus against it. The Danish air force is bombing the radicals in Iraq nowadays.

AQAP is the most energetic of the al-Qaeda affiliates in attempting to inflict terrorism on the West, and was behind the 2009 ‘underwear bomber’ plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit, along with other plots targeting Western countries. The Kouachi brothers who spearheaded the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris were connected to AQAP and one of them had visited Yemen and been hosted by al-Awlaki in Maarib shortly before the latter’s death. AQAP claimed to have been behind the Paris attacks.

It is too soon to know (if we ever can) who exactly was behind the Copenhagen attacks on Saturday. But they followed very closely the Paris playbook, with an attack on a seminar discussing freedom of speech, attended by one of the caricaturists who lampooned the Prophet Muhammad. Then there was a side attack on a synagogue. These two targets were similar to those in Paris.

At the very least, it would be no surprise to discover that AQAP ordered them. Because this is a possibility, it seems to me that Danish authorities were lax in providing security to a meeting that involved Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist. AQAP or something like it has sleeper cells in Europe and has put the word out (whether formally or informally) to deploy violence. A Moroccan-Danish al-Qaeda enthusiast was just sentenced for trying to support and recruit for al-Qaeda on social media. Seasoned observers warned that the Paris attacks were unlikely to be the last by the radicals.

This kind of violence is extremely useful to al-Qaeda offshoots and affiliates, since it produces a Western backlash against ordinary everyday European Muslims, which can then drive the latter into the arms of the radicals. Denmark has a couple hundred thousand Muslims, and about 2700 Danish converts to Islam. Morten Storm was a Danish biker and misfit who became a radical Muslim and then switched to informing for the CIA. Because Danish Muslims are relatively wealthy and from a relatively wealthy country, and because they are Europeans, al-Qaeda would like to recruit them. But they would for the most part only embrace it out of desperation. It is therefore necessary to produce desperation by putting them in trouble with the government and with white supremacists.


Ruptly TV: “Denmark: BREAKING Police shoot man in Copenhagen train station”

17 Responses

  1. Larry Larsen

    Quite the vicious circle, perpetuation of which US/”the West” oh so enthusiastically does its part. Can’t kill our way out of this.

  2. You think “Danish authorities were lax in providing security to a meeting that involved Lars Vilks”? The assigned body guards and police prevented the attacker from getting inside the meeting, he was reduced to shooting from the outside. Unless you want to turn the entire country into a garrison state with stop-and-frisk of everybody everywhere, you cannot guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen. I really hope the general reaction will not be like yours. There’s a cost to living in a free country. And yes, I am Danish, so I am not just asking somebody else to potentially pay that cost.

    • It doesn’t require garrisoning an entire country to provide better security to a known target event.

      • Well, I think that the attacker was stopped at the chosen perimeter in this case. You can widen the perimeter, but I don’t see how you can prevent a determined attacker from potentially killing/wounding people at the perimeter (unless you go down the path of the garrison state).

  3. Denmark was a very socially-progressive nation after WW2. If I recall correctly the Danes voiced strong opposition to our Vietnam war. What happened since then?

    • “What happened since then?”

      Not much, Denmark is still a highly developed welfare state for Danish citizens. As to Iraq, they had a conservative government at the time that chose to believe Colin Powell.

    • Socialism is easy in a homogeneous society. But people move to where the money is, and fear of immigrants create a nativist cult of inequality, which then poisons all politics. Once you hate the brown people around you, you tend to want white people to oppress brown people everywhere on Earth.

  4. All these terrorist acts in the name of Islam establish an unhealthy debt between the vast majority of normal Muslims residing in Western countries and the non-Muslim native population, or the significant portion of the latter, which up to the present time has made the effort to go through the cognitive process of rightly concluding that, as individuals, the great majority of Muslims would never act in the terroristic ways of the recent, demented attackers who use Islam pretextually to carry out what are in fact nihilistic acts of violence. Inversely, these terroristic acts very likely also have the effect of discouraging and dampening the protestive spirit of sizable numbers within said Muslim immigrant population, who, if not for the Islam-connected attacks in the heart of Europe, would find no unseemly complications/strategic hindrances to the organization of more frequent protests against a revived and catastrophic Western imperialism in the Middle East and in much of the Islamic world in general.

  5. Robert Fisk makes a valid point about talking with listed terrorists that is probably beyond the comprehension of our or Europe’s leaders: “Talking offers hope of a peaceful solution. But we’re not allowed to do it: The very precautions aid agencies now take have made them objects of suspicion” by Robert Fisk – link to

  6. For a great many years I’ve thought of Denmark as being an ideal country, to the point where, if I had ever visited Europe, I would as soon have wanted to check it out as any of the usual biggies there, like Spain, Italy, or France. This was because everything I ever heard about Denmark was as solidly on the side of decency and a sense of proportion as it is possible for any society to be. Two things that especially stuck in my mind were how, during WW2, even though it was occupied by the Germans, Denmark managed, at great danger to itself, to spirit away so many of its nearly 8,000 Jews to safety in nearby neutral Sweden that 99 % of them survived the War, and also there was how humanely the Danes treated their prison populations, including allowing wives to have generous access to their incarcerated husbands.

    And so I thought, and still think, that Denmark serves as a model for many other countries, especially the U.S. and Israel. Denmark is close to the same size as Israel, in land and in population, but consider how, throughout its short existence, the latter has been a gigantic boil in the side of the Middle East, and compare that to how one has never heard of the Danes as being any sort of pain to their neighbors, at least not since Viking days.

    Therefore I can’t understand why the Danes thought it was a good idea to go along with GWBush’s highly obvious blunder of invading Iraq, unless they had a leader at the time who had a bad attack of Stephen Harperitis, as has been happening with serious consequences to our neighbor to the north, Canada, which till recently rivaled Denmark in virtuosity.

  7. I’m beginning to have doubts the shooter had a connection to a terrorist group like ISIS or al-Qaeda. The shooter was killed more than 24 hrs. ago but details about him have remained vague, to say the least. Was he a just petty criminal known to police for previous violent, but non-terrorist related crimes?

    Where is the connection to any terrorist groups? Why haven’t the authorities released that information? They’ve had more than enough time.

  8. […] A weekend of terror –> In the wake of two Paris-like attacks that killed two and wounded five others in Copenhagen, Juan Cole explains why Denmark has become a target of al Qaeda. It’s not only about cartoons mocking Allah — Cole writes that a Danish intelligence officer played a key role in directing US drone strikes against leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He adds that “this kind of violence is extremely useful to al-Qaeda offshoots and affiliates, since it produces a Western backlash against ordinary everyday European Muslims, which can then drive the latter into the arms of the radicals.” AND: The Islamic State released a gruesome video on Sunday purporting to show 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being executed. Omar Fahmy and Yara Bayoumy report for Reuters that Egypt has begun to retaliate with a series of bombing raids against ISIS targets in Libya. ALSO: Local police in the northern German city of Braunschweig canceled a major festival this weekend amid reports of a credible threat by Islamist radicals, but Oliver Pietschmann reports for Ha’aretz that an Interior Ministry spokesperson said, “we do not have any concrete indications of attack plans in Germany.” […]

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