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BAGHDAD - A senior al-Qaeda militant had been planning an attack against the football World Cup, which kicks off in South Africa next month, an Iraqi security spokesperson said yesterday.
The 30-year-old Saudi national, who was arrested two weeks ago, had been in contact with al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri as part of his planning for the attack, though no further details were made available.
Abdullah Azzam Saleh Misfar al-Qahtani "participated in the planning of a terrorist act in South Africa during the World Cup," Baghdadsecurity spokesperson Major General Qassim Atta said at a news conference in the Iraqi capital.
He added that Qahtani, who was in charge of "security" for the terror network in Baghdad, was in contact "with the terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri to organise the plan hatched by al-Qaeda". Zawahiri is al-Qaeda's number two and deputy to Osama bin Laden.
Atta declined to give further details on the plan or comment on how the information was obtained.
In Johannesburg, South African police said they were making inquiries about the reported threat from Iraq.
"The South African police are still working on getting confirmation," Nonkululeko Mbatha, spokesperson for the national police chief, told AFP.
"I don't know anything about that. We've not been consulted or informed," police spokesperson Vish Naidoo told AFP. "We must phone Iraq. That's the next step," he said.
National police chief General Bheki Cele said last week that he knew of no security threat to the World Cup, which starts on June 11.
Atta said Qahtani, who adopted the nom de guerre (war names) "Sinan al-Saudi," held a degree in business administration and also graduated from King Fahd Security College with the rank of lieutenant.
He entered Iraq in 2004, shortly after the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, and was involved in operations in the towns of al-Qaim and Husayba near Iraq's border with Syria.
Atta said Qahtani was arrested by the US military in 2007 under the false name Muzawar al-Shammari, and was released last year.
More recently, he took part in the planning of a series of co-ordinated attacks against Baghdad hotels in January, which killed 36 people, and in the organisation of five vehicle-borne bombs that killed 127 people in the capital in December. - Sapa-AFP