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Terrorist Attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad

Alok Rashmi Mukhopadhyay was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • June 09, 2008

    On June 2, terrorists exploded a car-bomb outside the Embassy of Denmark in the high-security diplomatic area of Islamabad. The explosion instantaneously killed eight people, injured more than twenty five and damaged properties in the vicinity. People killed in the attack were mainly Pakistanis, including the local staff at the embassy and a Danish citizen of Pakistani origin. It is not clear how an explosive-laden car was able to enter such a highly-guarded area without detection. Pakistani authorities have already formed a joint investigation team including the police, investigating and intelligence agencies. The Danish Foreign Ministry has also formed a task force and has sent a team to Islamabad to co-ordinate with Pakistani authorities.

    The attack has to be seen in the context of developments in Denmark over the last few years and the international repercussions of these events. Foremost among these relates to the issue of the cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in a provocative form. Pakistan was one of the countries that experienced massive street demonstrations against these cartoons. With the reprinting of these cartoons in Danish media in February 2008 as a symbolic protest against the alleged plot to kill the cartoonist, the situation has once again become tense. In mid-April, the Centre for Terroranalyse (CTA) under the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) made the following assessment:

    “The reprinting of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed has led to a renewed negative focus on Denmark in a number of countries. There are indications that the reprinting has led to an increased focus on Denmark – also among leading militant extremist abroad – and that such extremists wish to carry out acts of terrorism against Denmark, Danes and Danish interests abroad. This particularly applies to Danes and Danish interests in areas where al-Qaida-related groups are active; with emphasis on countries in North Africa and the Middle East and in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Terrorist attacks can take place without prior intelligence indications, i.e. without warning.

    There is much speculation about who is actually behind the attack, especially given the new Pakistan government’s truce with local extremist groups in South Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The needle of suspicion seems to point towards al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Pakistan. Interestingly, the PET, in its preliminary assessment, has underscored the probability of al-Qaeda and its affiliates behind the attack. However, it has not ruled out the intention of ‘other militant Islamist groups and network in Pakistan’. Even if it is presumed that global terrorist groups – who are known for their precise planning and flawless execution – are behind the attack, it also has to be accepted that they have chosen the target indiscriminately knowing very well that the attack would only kill fellow Muslims and not Danes who have already shifted from the targeted premises. Given the indiscriminate nature of the attack, it is possible that individually radicalised persons or group of persons may be behind the attack.

    Individually inspired groups or lone radicals have gained a clear significance in the present global terror scenario. It is obvious that the Danish cartoon controversy has contributed to a quick radicalisation process of Muslim youth in Pakistan and elsewhere. Some incidents may especially be cited here. In March 2006, Amir Abdur Rehman Cheema, a Pakistani national from Saroki in Punjab who had been studying textile engineering in Mönchengladbach, Germany, attempted to kill the editor of Die Welt in the newspaper’s office in Berlin. Cheema wanted to avenge the ‘sacrilege’ in the form of cartoons reprinted by Die Welt in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, the Danish daily from Aarhus which first published the cartoons. Apprehended and placed in custody, Cheema committed suicide in a Berlin prison in May 2006. In protest, a huge demonstration took place during Cheema’s funeral in his home town. Some parliamentarians of the MMA even tabled a motion in the Pakistan National Assembly to discuss the incident. Similarly, in 2006, two students were arrested in Germany for attempting to plant suitcase bombs at the railway stations of Dortmund and Koblenz. The two Lebanese students were supposedly angered by the publication of the Danish cartoons in the European media. In February 2008, Danish authorities claimed to have arrested two Tunisians and a Danish national who wanted to kill Kurt Westergaard, a cartoonist of Jyllands-Posten.

    As the investigations are at a preliminary stage and both Danish and Pakistani authorities have declared to work together, findings would be indeed crucial for terrorism experts and security analysts. Nonetheless the attack against the Danish embassy in Islamabad is not all that surprising. Since the publication and reprinting of the provocative Danish cartoons, its consequence in different parts of the world has indeed been a matter of global concern. The whole issue has had a severe impact on Denmark’s relations with Arab countries and with those countries with significant Muslim populations in South and South East Asia. It appears at present that the cartoon controversy would continue to haunt Danes at home as well as abroad. Moreover, given that Danish soldiers are posted in Afghanistan, Danish foreign and security policy is likely to face unprecedented challenges in the months to come.