Irish court extends custody of 7 Muslims over alleged murder plot against Swedish artist

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Irish extend arrests of 7 over Swede murder plot

DUBLIN — Seven Muslims in Ireland allegedly linked to a plot to assassinate Swedish artist Lars Vilks should remain in custody for at least three more days while police investigate their computer and telephone records, an Irish judge ruled Thursday amid rare courtroom secrecy.

The seven — three Algerians, a Libyan, a Palestinian, a Croatian and an American woman married to one of the Algerians — were arrested Tuesday in Ireland hours before U.S. authorities unveiled a terror indictment against a 46-year-old Philadelphia woman, Colleen LaRose.

LaRose is accused of plotting with others to kill Vilks because of his 2007 sketch depicting the head of the Muslim prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body. The drawing provoked terror front Al-Qaida in Iraq to offer a $100,000 bounty for his slaying.

Irish police say LaRose — who billed herself as “Jihad Jane” in a 2008 YouTube video — visited Ireland in September and spent about two weeks with the Algerian-American couple and other suspects. Investigators believe she began communicating last year with the Irish-based suspects in private-member Internet chat rooms.

A judge in Waterford District Court, southeast Ireland, approved 72-hour custody extensions at two hearings Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Journalists and the wider public were barred from both court sessions — an exceptional act in Ireland — as police sought to keep the identities of all seven suspects concealed.

But two police officials, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case, confirmed that the American woman under arrest in Ireland is a Muslim convert originally from the U.S. state of Kansas who resettled in Ireland with her 49-year-old Algerian husband. The Algerian man has been identified from LaRose’s online communications as her chief contact in Ireland.

Anti-terrorist officers aided by the police department’s Middle Eastern unit are poring over the seven suspects’ computers, telephone records and documents to identify the extent of their contact with LaRose and any evidence of efforts to aid an attack on Vilks.

Vilks has received extra security in Sweden since January, when he received two telephone death threats from a Swedish-speaking Somali man. Those threats followed the Jan. 1 attempted attack on Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose 2005 cartoon of a bomb-turbaned Muhammad infuriated Muslims worldwide. Police shot and wounded Westergaard’s Somali attacker, who had broken into his home armed with an ax but couldn’t reach the artist barricaded in a room.

Three Swedish newspapers reprinted Vilks’ provocative drawing this week citing its news value and the need to defend freedom of expression. On Thursday the Swedish Muslim Federation, which has 60,000 members, denounced both the threats to kill Vilks and the newspapers’ reprinting of his work.

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