"Forest fires in European Union countries should be considered one of the new trends in al-Qaeda's 'thousand cuts' strategy," Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service, told a security conference in Moscow on October 3.
"This approach allows them to inflict significant damage on the economy and morale without any serious preparation, technical equipment or financial losses."
He cited talk of "forest jihad" on various extremist websites and forums as evidence of the strategy.
Fire outbreaks in forests across Europe have become a yearly phenomenon often blamed on human negligence. This year tens of thousands of hectares of land were set ablaze across Spain, Portugal, the Balkans and southern Europe.
Environmentalists quickly dismissed Bortnikov's claim. "There isn't the slightest doubt that the human factor is the cause of the fires," said Nikolai Shmatkov, a forest expert at the World Wildlife Fund.
Bortnikov provided no proof, but his theory reflects public discussions among Islamic extremists.
A recent edition of Inspire, the online propaganda publication run by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, devoted 11 pages to starting forest fires in Nato countries, including instructions. "Fire is one of the soldiers of Allah," it said. – © Guardian News & Media 2012