KHARTOUM, Sudan – A group claiming to be Al Qaeda's branch in Sudan said Tuesday that it killed the chief editor of a Sudanese independent daily who provoked a furor with an article denounced as blasphemous.
The claim in the slaying of Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed, whose body was found last week, was issued by a previously unknown group called Al Qaeda in Sudan and Africa. The authenticity of the claim, posted on the Web site of Al-Arabiya television, could not be independently confirmed.
Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden was based in Sudan until the late 1990s when the government threw him out and he moved to Afghanistan. Since then, members of the group have operated in eastern Africa. But until Tuesday's claim, no group had announced itself as Al Qaeda's branch in Sudan, along the lines of those in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Ahmed, the editor-in-chief of Al-Wifaq, was snatched from his home in eastern Khartoum on Sept. 5 and his body was found a day later.
"Thanks to God's grace, ... execution was carried out against a dog of the dogs of the ruling party, the atheist journalist Mohammed Taha, who defamed our Prophet Muhammad," the statement said.
It said he was "slaughtered" by three members of the group, who it said fled Khartoum on Thursday. The phrasing has been used by Al Qaeda in Iraq for people it has beheaded, but Sudanese officials have not said whether Ahmed was decapitated.
The statement was signed "Abu Hafs al-Sudani," identified as the group's leader. It was e-mailed to several Sudanese papers Tuesday, according to Al-Arabiya.
Ahmed sparked controversy last year after his paper republished an article from the Internet that questioned the parentage of the Prophet Muhammad. In May 2005, scores of Sudanese gathered in front of the capital's courthouse demanding a death sentence for Ahmed.
The paper was temporarily suspended by the government and was eventually fined more than $3,000. Ahmed apologized in a letter to the press saying he did not intend to insult the prophet. Blasphemy and insulting Islam can bring the death penalty in Sudan, which has been governed by strict Islamic Sharia law since 1983.
Maj. Gen. Abdel Azeem al-Rufai, the operations director for the National Security and Intelligence Service, said authorities investigating Ahmed's death "do not rule out involvement of external hands, which could be revealed later."
Bin Laden has pointed to Sudan as a possible front for Al Qaeda attacks. In an April audiotape, he called on militants to attack U.N. peacekeepers if they deploy in the country's war-torn western region of Darfur.