/ 23 April 2008

Terror fears: Denmark evacuates embassies

Denmark has evacuated staff from its embassies in Algeria and Afghanistan because of terror threats following the reprint in Danish newspapers of a caricature depicting the Prophet Muhammad, officials said on Wednesday.

Embassy employees in the Algerian capital, Algiers, and the Afghan capital, Kabul, will continue to work out of ”secret locations” in those cities, and will be reachable by phone and e mail, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Erik Laursen said.

The threat ”is so concrete that we had to take this decision”, Laursen said. ”The decision is based on intelligence,” he added, declining to elaborate.

The Netherlands took similar precautions, announcing on Wednesday that it had closed its embassy’s offices in Kabul two days earlier after reassessing the security situation in the Afghan capital.

Last week, Dutch embassy personnel in Pakistan shifted to a luxury hotel in Islamabad due to heightened security concerns following the release of a film critical of the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book, by Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

The Netherlands has stationed 1 600 combat troops with the Nato-led security force in southern Afghanistan.

In Copenhagen, Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller suggested Danish embassies in other locations also could be forced to relocate their staff following a warning last month by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

”There has been a general threat from al-Qaeda, which means that their cells or people who sympathise with them around the world will try to see where they can fulfil al-Qaeda’s desires,” Moeller said in a TV interview. ”Therefore I can certainly not say that they are the last two embassies [to be evacuated].”

In an audio recording posted on a militant website on March 19, Bin Laden warned of a ”severe” reaction against Europe over the republishing of the cartoon.

Danish intelligence officials have warned of an ”aggravated” terror threat against Denmark because of the February 13 reprinting of the drawing, which showed Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. It was one of the 12 Danish Prophet cartoons that sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2006.

More than a dozen newspapers reprinted the cartoon, saying they wanted to support free speech after police revealed a plot to kill the creator of the caricature.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that employees had been moved from the Danish embassies in Algiers and Kabul ”because of terror threats”.

Laursen said the employees in Algiers were relocated ”some days ago”, while the staff in Kabul was moved on Wednesday.

”Right now, we are in places that we consider safe,” he said. — Sapa-AP