Killer ‘inspired by Paris attacks’


Published: Monday 16th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The suspected gunman who carried out the deadly Copenhagen attacks was a 22 year old with a history of violence and may have been inspired by the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Danish authorities have said.

The suspect, named in Danish news reports as Omar el-Hussein, was killed in a gun battle with a SWAT team early yesterday, hours after opening fire at a cultural centre hosting a seminar on free speech featuring an artist who had caricatured the Prophet Mohammed, then later outside a synagogue.

Prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt vowed to protect freedom of speech and Denmark’s Jewish community.

A Danish film-maker was killed in the first attack. Nine hours later, a security guard protecting a bat mitzvah near the synagogue was gunned down. Five police officers were wounded in the shootings.

Jens Madsen, head of the Danish intelligence agency PET, said investigators believed the gunman “could have been inspired by the events in Paris”. Last month Islamic militants carried out a massacre at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo followed by an attack on Jews at a kosher grocery, killing 17 people.

“He could also have been inspired by material sent out by (the Islamic State – IS – group) and others,” Mr Madsen said.

Copenhagen police made no mention of Islamic extremism and said the Danish-born suspect had a history of violence and weapons offences and connections to a criminal gang. They did not release his name.

“Denmark has been hit by terror,” Ms Thorning-Schmidt said. “We do not know the motive for the alleged perpetrator’s actions, but we know that there are forces that want to hurt Denmark. They want to rebuke our freedom of speech.”

Copenhagen’s chief rabbi Jair Melchior said the security guard was Dan Uzan, 27. Two police officers who were near the synagogue were slightly wounded.

In the earlier shooting, 55-year-old film-maker Finn Noergaard was killed while attending a panel discussion called Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression.

One of the main speakers was Lars Vilks, a 68-year-old Swedish artist who has faced numerous death threats for depicting the Mohammed as a dog in 2007. Mr Vilks, who was whisked away unharmed by bodyguards, said he believed he was the intended target.

Agnieszka Kolek, another panellist, said she heard shouts of “God is great” in Arabic.

“Lars was being evacuated. Everyone was trying to protect themselves and others,” she said. “We heard the gunshots approaching so I thought that the gunman must be in the building. And then I thought obviously I must protect myself and I tried to find a place to hide.”

After the shooting, she said she and other participants continued the discussion as an act of defiance.

The depiction of Mohammed is deemed insulting to followers of Islam. While many Muslims have expressed disgust at the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo employees, they were also deeply offended by its caricatures.

Denmark was the focus of anger from Islamists after the 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The cartoons triggered riots in many Muslim countries and militant Islamists called for vengeance.

World leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, condemned the Copenhagen attacks.

French president Francois Hollande visited the Danish embassy in Paris and hundreds gathered outside to show solidarity with victims. Many held candles or banners.

Also at the event was Patrick Pelloux, a medic and columnist for Charlie Hebdo. “We are all Danish tonight,” he said.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki offered Washington’s help to Danish authorities and said Americans “stand united with the people of Denmark and all others who defend the universal right of freedom of speech and stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms”.

Police said they believe the gunman carried out the attacks alone, but were investigating whether he had received any help.

In a raid on a Copenhagen internet cafe, police removed at least two people in handcuffs, Danish media reported. Police spokesman Steen Hansen said “the action was part of the police investigation”.

The European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said it was in contact with Danish authorities. “We are offering our expertise and capabilities from our anti-terrorist unit including access to our databases,” said spokesman Soeren Pedersen.

The killings took place two days after Denmark and its partners in the EU agreed to boost co-operation in the counter-terrorism field as a result of the Paris attacks.

Published: Monday 16th February 2015 by The News Editor

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