U.S. cartoonist Molly Norris has been declared a ‘target’ by radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has issued a fatwa calling for her death.
The social satirist, who stirred up a religious storm earlier this year with a tongue-in-cheek encouragement to draw images of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, has gone into hiding after threats to her safety.
Cleric al-Awlaki, 39, who is thought to be hiding in Yemen and has links to al Qaeda, said in the June issue of ‘Inspire’, an English-language magazine for American Muslim youth, that Norris was a ‘prime target’ whose ‘proper abode is hellfire.’
Now the Seattle Weekly says Norris has been told by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to ‘go ghost’ following the news of the fatwa.
‘On the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI,’ Norris is ‘moving, changing her name and essentially wiping away her identity,’ says the Seattle Weekly.
Norris, whose work regularly appears in the Seattle paper, gained international attention in the spring after she drew a mock promotion of an imaginary event, ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.’
The threat didn’t become public until now because authorities thought it might be fake–until the full, 67-page issue of Inspire was recently posted on a jihadi message board.
The spoof picture drawn by Norris, which was published on Facebook, depicted various inanimate objects–including a coffee cup and a domino–each claiming to be the true likeness of the founder of Islam.
The cartoon was taken seriously by many, although Norris apologized to Muslims shortly after it was published in April. Norris she was just joking but the idea had already been widely circulated on internet sites and emailed around the world and soon more than 100,000 followers were on Facebook supporting the event.
‘We understand the absolute seriousness of a threat from an Al Qaeda-inspired magazine and are attempting to do everything in our power to assist the individuals on that list to effectively protect themselves and change their behavior to make themselves less of a target,’ said David Gomez, the FBI’s assistant special agent in charge of counter-terrorism in Seattle.
Norris originally launched her mock campaign in protest at threats of violence issued against those who depict Mohammed, which is considered blasphemous in Muslim culture.
The issue became a flashpoint five years ago when a caricature by Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard sparked sometimes violent protests. Westergaard has been under police protection since February 2008.
U.S. cartoon TV series South Park also stirred up controversy and threats earlier this year with its depiction of Mohammed in a bear suit. In Islam any drawings or depictions of Mohammad are strictly forbidden.
Norris is lying low for now and at the urging of the F.B.I. has moved and changed her name.