BAGHDAD An al Qaeda-affiliated group in Iraq on Tuesday denied plotting to attack the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa that starts next month.
An Internet statement by the Islamic State of Iraq, widely considered an affiliate of the Sunni militant group al Qaeda in Iraq, dismissed the suggestion as the work of wild imaginations.
It followed comments by an alleged al Qaeda militant arrested in Iraq who said he had suggested an attack on the Danish and Dutch teams at the World Cup to avenge insults against the Prophet Mohammad.
"It was an idea of a plot," Abdullah Azzam al-Qahtani, described by Iraqi authorities as a Saudi national, said in an interview televised last week on U.S.-funded al-Hurra television.
The Islamic State of Iraq said the alleged plot had been thought up by "the stupid media machine of the Green Zone's government," in reference to the fortified zone in central Baghdad that houses U.S. military personnel, the U.S. embassy and several Iraqi government buildings. The alleged plot surfaced after the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported head of the Islamic State of Iraq, were killed in a raid north of Baghdad in April.
"As we expected, the stupid media machine of the Green Zone's government will use the killing of our two Sheikhs to release a chain of lies about false victories and try to cover them with some sort of credibility," said the statement, released on a Web site previously used by the group.
"But no one expected that their imagination might extend to Johannesburg and the World Cup."
Iraqi security officials offered no details of the alleged plot when they announced Qahtani's arrest on May 17.
Al-Hurra TV reported that Qahtani said the plot was meant to avenge insults against the prophet.
Cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, one showing the Prophet Mohammad wearing a turban resembling a bomb, touched off riots, protests and attacks on Danish embassies in some Muslim countries in 2006.
The World Cup is scheduled to run from June 11 to July 11.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)