In Copenhagen on Friday, Jan. 1, a Somali man identified by Kenyan police as Mohammed Muhideen Gelle allegedly tried to stab a Danish cartoonist who drew one of the 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked a furor in the Muslim world in 2005. Kenyan police and intelligence sources have revealed that they arrested him last year on terrorism suspicions and then deported him to Denmark, where he has residency. (See the top cartoons of 2009.)
Both cases exposed intelligence problems, but while the bombing attempt on the Detroit plane was believed to be the work of one misguided youth who may or may not have had links to al-Qaeda, analysts fear that the alleged attack on the Danish cartoonist may signal a wider plot by radical Islamists in Somalia to take their fight abroad.
The al-Shabab militia in Somalia, which is suspected to have ties to al-Qaeda, would not say whether it was involved in the plot to kill the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard. But Sheik Muktar Robow, a spokesman for the group, did say that Gelle, who was shot by Danish police during his arrest, was a "hero to all Muslims." "We are very sad that the mission failed," Robow tells TIME. "Everyone describes him as a brave man, and as a group, al-Shabab prays for him to recover quickly from his injuries." (Read a brief history of al-Shabab.)
Even though al-Shabab has not claimed responsibility for the attack, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service has said Gelle had "close relations to the Somali terror organization al-Shabab and leaders of al-Qaeda in East Africa." Al-Shabab has also made repeated, impassioned proclamations that it wants to carry its fight to the rest of eastern Africa and beyond, possibly to the West. And while its resources are not believed to be extensive, it has shown recent signs of increasing sophistication, like using suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices.
"It's quite clear that al-Shabab has international ambitions," says E.J. Hogendoorn, a Nairobi-based Horn of Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group. "It has an international agenda in that it sees itself in part as relating to the larger Muslim population. So when they can get away with a high-profile attack that they think will generate support, I think they will do so. The question is whether they have the capacity to do so." (See pictures of Muslims in America.)
If this is indeed the case, then the attack on the Danish cartoonist, which may or may not have been part of the group's plans, raises the question of whether the Kenyan police have the capacity to stop potential Somali attackers from entering their country and possibly continuing on to other nations.
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