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U.S. cartoonist in hiding after cleric's threat

A cartoonist has disappeared from public view because she's on an Islamic cleric's hitlist for declaring "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" last spring, according to a newspaper.
/ Source: msnbc.com

A cartoonist has disappeared from public view because she's on an Islamic cleric's hitlist for declaring "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" last spring, according to a newspaper that ran her drawings.

Seattle Weekly Editor in Chief Mark D. Fefer posted an article Wednesday saying Molly Norris is "moving, changing her name and essentially wiping away her identity" on the advice of the FBI.

The FBI's Seattle counterterrorism program manager, David Gomez, told msnbc.com that he could not confirm Fefer's statement about Norris changing her identity.

He did acknowledge previous FBI statements that Norris had been warned of a serious threat.

While the FBI is not in the advice business, Gomez said, "In extraordinary cases we will assist individuals in obtaining proper advice."

The Norris firestorm began last April, when she posted on her blog a cartoon declaring May 20 as "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." The cartoon, she said at the time, was in response to what she called "veiled" threats against Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of the TV show "South Park," for depicting Muhammad in a bear suit.

Many Muslims believe any depiction of Muhammad is blasphemous, which is how some saw Norris' cartoon.

Facebook pages were set up in support and in protest of her cartoon, which also mocked Viacom and Comedy Central for editing the "South Park" episode.

In May, Pakistan blocked access to Facebook.

In July, Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, 39, denigrated Norris and eight others in the English-language al-Qaida magazine "Inspire" over "blasphemous caricatures" of Muhammad, the New York Daily News reported at the time.

Awlaki, 39, who is originally from Las Cruces, N.M., singled out Norris as a "prime target," saying her "proper abode is hellfire," the Daily News said.

The cleric called her soul "so debased as to enjoy the ridicule" of Muhammad.

Norris earlier said she regretted the cartoon.

On her website at the time, she wrote that the cartoon was satire and she did not really mean that May 20 should be "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day."

"I apologize to people of Muslim faith and ask that this 'day' be called off," she said at the time.

"I regret that I made my cartoon the way I made it," she was quoted as telling Seattle-based KING 5 TV in July.

Editor Fefer said in his article Wednesday that Norris is still alive and well and that she received FBI instructions on how to protect herself.

Gomez called the naming of private vs. public officials in terrorist threats a recent phenomenon in the United States.

The public should be aware of the terrorsist threats were facing, particularly from Al Qaida and its surrogates, and they "will target innocent individuals like Molly Norris," Gomez said.

Depictions of Muhammad have sparked death and riots in the past.

The threat against the "South Park" creators included a reference to the 2004 fatal stabbing of filmmaker and Islam critic Theo Van Gogh.

The publication in European newspapers editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad sparked protests and riots across the Muslim world in 2006.