Gunman ‘just released from prison’

Published: Tuesday 17th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The gunman who attacked a free-speech seminar and a synagogue in Copenhagen was recently released from a jail where he may have been radicalised while serving time for a vicious stabbing.

As Denmark mourned the two victims, troubling details emerged about Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein’s path to the country’s worst terror spree in three decades.

El-Hussein was arrested 15 months ago for a vicious knife attack on a train passenger.

While he was awaiting trial, a change in his behaviour last summer set off enough “alarm bells” for jail authorities to alert PET, Denmark’s counter-terror agency, a source close to the investigation told AP.

Such warnings usually set in motion counter-radicalisation efforts, such as counselling in jail.

It was not immediately clear how aware the court was of this issue before El-Hussein was convicted of a lesser charge.

Sentenced to the time he had already served, he was released about two weeks ago, the source said.

“We are working on finding out what has happened,” PET spokeswoman Lotte Holmstrup said.

The agency’s director, Jens Madsen, has confirmed the agency had been aware of the gunman, and that El-Hussein may have been inspired by last month’s attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris which killed 17 people.

The 22-year-old opened fire at a cultural centre and a synagogue – targets that resembled the Paris attackers’ rampage at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Jewish grocery store – before he was killed in a gun battle with a SWAT team early on Sunday.

His victims included a Danish documentary filmmaker and a Jewish security guard, while five police officers were wounded.

Denmark’s prime minister and crown prince and foreign dignitaries joined about 30,000 people honouring the victims last night outside the Krudttoenden cultural centre.

“I am here with my daughter to show her that we live in a free country. No one must ruin it,” said Aisha Abdi, a Somali Muslim and political refugee who brought her 12-year-old daughter, Irina.

Also yesterday, a judge ordered 10 days of pre-trial detention for two people accused of helping El-Hussein get rid of a weapon while evading authorities.

Both men deny the charges, said Michael Juul Eriksen, a defence lawyer for one of the two.

Many Danes first saw El-Hussein’s image in November 2013, when he was wanted by police for gravely wounding a 19-year-old student in his left thigh and buttocks with a large knife.

He told the court he had smoked hashish and was feeling paranoid when he randomly attacked the student.

Prosecutors charged him with attempted homicide but a judge convicted him of aggravated assault, taking into account El-Hussein’s claim that he never meant to kill the victim, said court reporter Jesper Braarud Larsen, who covered his trial in December.

Denmark has foiled a series of terror plots since the 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper triggered riots in Muslim countries and calls for vengeance.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who caricatured the prophet in 2007, was at Saturday’s free speech event. Whisked away unharmed by his bodyguards, he said he thought he was the intended target.

Other participants dropped to the floor, scrambling for somewhere to hide as the gunman sprayed bullets through the glass windows and then fled. Later Saturday, he visited an Internet cafe before moving on to the synagogue.

Police raided the cafe on Sunday and detained four people, including the two men held yesterday. The other two were released.

While mourners placed hundreds of flower bouquets and candles at both shooting scenes, a smaller mound of flowers appeared where the gunman was killed.

Ozlem Cekic, a politician of the left-wing Socialist People’s Party, called that another “huge assault on the Danish population”.

Later in the day, a group of young men removed the bouquets, telling Denmark’s TV2 network it is not a Muslim tradition to honour the dead with flowers.

The shooting spree was Denmark’s worst terror attack since a bomb exploded outside the Copenhagen office of the North West Orient airline in 1985, killing a 27-year-old Algerian tourist.

US president Barack Obama has phoned his Danish counterpart, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmid, to offer his condolences.

The White House said Mr Obama offered the United States’ support, and the pair agreed to work together to confront those who would challenge free speech or religion.

Published: Tuesday 17th February 2015 by The News Editor

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