July 14th, 2010
11:33 AM ET

FBI warns Seattle cartoonist about threats from radical cleric

A Seattle cartoonist who drew a cartoon about the Prophet Mohammed has been warned by the FBI about death threats made against her by a radical cleric with ties to al Qaeda, an FBI agent said Tuesday.

"She should be taken as a prime target of assassination," terror suspect Anwar al-Awlaki purportedly wrote about cartoonist Molly Norris in an English-language magazine called Inspire that claimed to be a publication of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"This campaign is not a practice of freedom of speech, but is a nationwide mass movement of Americans" who are "going out of their way to offend Muslims worldwide," the article signed by al-Awlaki continued. Al-Awlaki is himself being sought in Yemen for his alleged role as a planner of the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger plane on Christmas Day last year.

Norris has been advised to take precautions to ensure her safety, said FBI Special Agent Marty Prewett.

"The FBI is always reviewing and assessing information it receives," Prewett said. "Whenever the FBI comes into possession of information of a threatening nature to an individual, we let that person know so they can take appropriate security measures. That is the case here."

Prewitt declined to comment on where Norris is and whether she is receiving protection from law enforcement. Al-Awlaki also threatened eight other cartoonists, journalists and writers from Britain, Sweden and Holland.

Norris kicked off a controversy in April with a cartoon published online about an imaginary group called "Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor" that

proposed an "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" on May 20. Norris said in media interviews at the time that she was inspired by the furor created from an episode of the show "South Park" that depicted the Propeht Mohammed dressed in a bear suit.

Comedy Central, which airs "South Park," aired an edited version of the episode after the show's creators received threats.

Norris' cartoon inspired a campaign to create pictures of the Islamic prophet across the internet with over 100,000 people signing up on a Facebook page. A Pakistani court ordered access to Facebook there cut off for two weeks. Competing sites blasted the campaign also drew tens of thousands of followers. Many Muslims find drawings and other depitcions of the Prophet Mohammed to be deeply offensive.

Norris said the consequences of the drawing were unintended. "I wasn't savvy," the cartoonist said in an interview last month with City Arts Magazine, where many of her cartoons were published.  "I didn't mean for my satirical poster to be taken seriously. It became kind of an excuse for people to hate or be mean-spirited. I'm not-mean spirited," Norris said.

An editor at City Arts said neither the magazine nor Norris had any comment on the death threats against her.

Adam Raisman, a senior analyst for the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic terror groups online communications, said al-Awlaki's threats constituted a continued effort to reach a wider audience and should not be taken lightly.

"The prophet is the pinnacle of Jihad [for al-Awlaki and his followers]," he said. "It is better to support the prophet by attacking those who slander him than it is to travel to land of Jihad like Iraq or Afghanistan." In February an ax-wielding man broke into the home of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard who has been targeted by extremists for his drawing of Mohammed. He and his grandaughter hid in a fortified "panic room" during the attack.

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Filed under: Security Brief
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Lori Diamond

    Freedom of speech, done and gone along with most of our rights which are slowly being removed! Wake up America!

    July 14, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rob

    I find trying to kill innocent people offensive. I don't care what imaginary God–that you never met says. The guy that likes to murder people is upset over a cartoon? Hmm yeah sorry my God didn't build my brain to believe such idiots and manipulators. Norris should realize that irrational people don't know how to take "jokes", she should stop back pedaling and just say "grow up". Bullies need to be punched in the nose, even if they want to kill you–the rest of us back her–not because of the cartoon, but because as silly as this all is, this irrational idiot thinks he can kill anyone he disagrees with.

    July 14, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dinesh Sharma

    The fact that I have to give a false name for this article says it all.
    I'm not interested in wantonly offending people. I have no desire to do so. But when those people resort
    to death threats and even murder because they were "offended", I'm all for offending them lots more..
    Go Molly Norris! Don't live in fear of lunatics..

    July 15, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Thom Phelps

    The First Amendment grants us the right to be offensive. So regardless of the deity, prophet, holy site, or founder of a religion in question, in America we Americans should be safe to do so. Hundreds of millions of devout Hindus don't threaten to kill people who eat hamburgers, despite how offensive that may be to them. Why should anyone else turn to murder over similar offending?

    Maybe it's offensive to the Muslim extremists to specifically mention Mohammad by name? I suggested "drawing the prophet" in my book, published over two years ago, and never got a single threat, despite thousands being sold. (Maybe that says something of the narrow audience that read it...)

    Meanwhile, the producers of the movie "2012" opted not to show the Kaaba in Mecca collapsing in their end of world montage of famous landmarks being destroyed for fear of reprisals from extremist Muslims (according to the entertainment interviews I remember during their marketing the movie). They should have shon it anyway purely out of principle.

    Just like the playground bully, fear is the extremist's weapon. If we don't fear them, they are impotent and have no power over us.

    September 16, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. louise112

    I agree, we can't just allow these people to get away with these threats. But even if we do not fear them, that doesn't mean they are impotent. Some of these extremists will carry out their threats – afraid or not afraid of them. Our government needs to do more to get our borders secure and get illegal's out of here. If there is freedom of speech, then I should be able to ask – I thought this was a peaceful belief???? HMMMMM

    September 16, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |