Iraqi security forces announced the arrest of Saudi citizen Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani Monday, saying he was suspected of planning an attack in South Africa during the World Cup beginning June 11.
During an interview arranged by the Iraqi security officials holding al-Qahtani, he described the plot and said the idea of attacking the World Cup came up in late 2009 during talks with friends over content in the Western media that was offensive to Muslims.
"We discussed the possibility of taking revenge for the insults of the Prophet by attacking Denmark and Holland," he said.
The World Cup was considered an "important event" and South Africa was thought to be easier to travel to than either of the two European countries they wanted to attack, he explained.
"The goal was to attack the Danish and the Dutch teams and their fans," the militant said. "If we were not able to reach the teams, then we'd target the fans," he said, adding that they hoped to use guns and car bombs.
An Iraqi security official with knowledge of the investigation said no steps had yet been taken to put the plan into motion such as obtaining bomb-making materials. The plot still needed approval from the al Qaeda chain of command, specifically second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, they said.
It was unclear how viable the plot was or whether the militants had the ability to carry out what would have been a complicated attack far from their home base.
Vish Naidoo, a spokesman for South African police, said Tuesday that South African officials were still awaiting word from their Iraqi counterparts about the arrest. He said the only information South African officials had was from media reports.
FIFA said in a statement Tuesday it would not comment on any specific potential threats to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Al-Qahtani's arrest came about after a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in April that resulted in the deaths of two top al Qaeda figures - Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi security official said.
During a search of the safehouse where al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were killed, documents were found including a note written by al-Qahtani detailing the World Cup terror plot. That and other information eventually led to his arrest.
The Iraqi security official would not discuss the specific contents of the note, including how exactly the plot was to be carried out or by whom, except to confirm that both Danish and Dutch teams and their fans were mentioned as potential targets.
The official did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss details of the case.