The 2016 Copenhagen 'Matchstick' Terror Plot and the Evolving Transnational Character of Terrorism in the West.

AuthorHamming, Tore

In 2015, Moyed el-Zoebi, a Syrian national then in his 20s (and now 32), came to Sweden seeking asylum together with his wife and their one-year-old son. Having been acquitted for an attack he was alleged to have carried out on a Shi'a community center in Malmo on October 11, 2016, claimed by the Islamic State, (1) el-Zoebi proceeded to plot a terrorist attack on a political target in Copenhagen in cooperation with another Syrian refugee living in southern Germany. The first part of the article looks at el-Zoebi's trajectory. The valuable insights this provides into the terrorist threat Western countries now face is discussed in the article's second part. Almost all information about el-Zoebi and the plot comes from court documents from el-Zoebi's trial in Denmark, which includes testimonies from his accomplice's court case in Germany. (2) Unless otherwise noted, the information provided here comes from these documents.

Moyed el-Zoebi's time in Sweden started with tragedy. Having arrived on September 14, 2015, less than two months later on November 10, his infant son died in a car accident. Less than a year later, el-Zoebi's wife left him, thus cementing his personal tragedy. It was around the same time (October 2016) that he was alleged to have carried out an attack against a Shi'a community center in the Rosengarden neighborhood in Malmo with Molotov cocktails. Although the attack was during the Ashura, a day of great religious significance for Shi'a, there were no casualties since it took place in the early morning hours. The building suffered extensive damage from a resulting fire, however. Due to alack of technical evidence--a private video recording from a camera installed by a company on a building across the street capturing the actual attack was deleted before the police managed to seize it--el-Zoebi was acquitted, and he even received compensation (approximately $10,200) for his time spent in custody. (3)

El-Zoebi's personal history is interesting. Born in Riyadh, he would move back and forth several times between Saudi Arabia and Syria, making him a national of both countries. Having completed two years of university studies in business and economy in Syria, he returned to Saudi Arabia to work as a make-up artist. But when the conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, he would help found the Free Syrian Army's media office, although he remained in Saudi Arabia until the end of 2013 when he finally relocated to Syria. Most likely in 2014, he left the Free Syrian Army and joined al-Qa'ida's Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, participating on the frontlines near Aleppo, according to a video el-Zoebi posted to his Facebook profile on November 18, 2016, the day before traveling to Copenhagen in furtherance of the plot and which was presented at trial. When exactly he began to show sympathy for the Islamic State is not known, but when he arrived in Sweden in September 2015, residents at the Swedish asylum center testified that he regularly spoke positively about the group. It is not clear how he got to Sweden from Syria. Authorities were not aware of any of his past jihadi activity or jihadi sympathies before his Danish trial.

The Plot

Moyed el-Zoebi's plan was to execute a terrorist attack in Copenhagen in December 2016 in cooperation with the 21-year-old Dieab Khadigah. The two Syrian refugees residing in Sweden and Germany, respectively, had never met but were connected through an Islamic State external operations planner in Syria that this author will refer to as the virtual planner. (4) It is not clear how the two established contact with the virtual planner, and there was no information provided in court on the virtual planner's identity. El-Zoebi and Khadigah were supposed to meet at Copenhagen's main train station on November 19, 2016. El-Zoebi took the train from southern Sweden while Khadigah arrived by train and then ferry from the German city of Puttgarden.

Khadigah had been tasked by the virtual planner with acquiring the materials needed to construct...

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