The alleged Al-Qaeda leader accused of plotting to attack next month's football World Cup in South Africa claims he had merely sketched notes for the idea and given them to a senior Iraqi militant, but had not heard back from him.

Abdullah Azzam Salih Misfar said his plans had not progressed past a wishlist phase and stemmed from ongoing attempts to find a way to punish Denmark for the publication by a Danish cartoonist two years ago of images of the Prophet Muhammad. “It was only an idea to blow up the World Cup in South Africa,” said Saudi-born Misfar in an interview in Baghdad on Tuesday. “I wrote the idea and sent it to Abu Hamza.” Hamza, a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq who was also known as Abu Ayub al-Masri, was killed last month. “It was relayed through other men, but I didn't get a reply.”

Misfar's comments appear to have poured cold water over a major security scare on the eve of the World Cup. Iraqi security chiefs made the shock claim that Misfar planned to target the World Cup in a press conference in Baghdad on Monday, leading to frantic phone calls from South African organisers.

Planning was said to have gone as high as the world's second most wanted man, Al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. But Misfar denied that on Tuesday. “I did not have any contact with Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abu Omer al-Baghdadi. My link was through the Baghdad chief, his name was Munaf al-Rawi.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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