Danish police charge two in Copenhagen attacks

2015-02-16 11:23
The police believe there was only one shooter in the attack on a Copenhagen cafe that left one person dead and three police officers wounded during a free speech event. (Janus Engel, AP, Polfoto)

The police believe there was only one shooter in the attack on a Copenhagen cafe that left one person dead and three police officers wounded during a free speech event. (Janus Engel, AP, Polfoto)

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Copenhagen - Danish police said on Monday they had charged two people with aiding the man suspected of shooting dead two people in attacks on a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen at the weekend.

The shootings, which Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called acts of terrorism, sent shockwaves through Denmark and have been compared to the January attacks in Paris by Islamist militants that killed 17.

"The two men are charged with helping through advice and deeds the perpetrator in relation to the shootings at Krudttonden and in Krystalgade," the police said in a statement, referring to the location of the two attacks.

Police had no further comment on the two men, who were detained on Sunday.

The gunman struck on Saturday afternoon, attempting to shoot his way into a cafe hosting a free speech event with Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has received death threats for depicting the head of the Prophet Muhammad on a dog.

Vilks was unharmed but a 55-year-old man was shot dead and three police officers injured. The shooter then attacked a synagogue, killing a guard outside and injuring another two police officers.

Danish media widely reported the gunman to be Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein. Reuters could not confirm his identity and police declined to comment.

First shooting

The first shooting happened shortly before 16:00 on Saturday, AP reported. Danish police said the gunman used an automatic weapon to shoot through the windows of the Krudttoenden cultural centre during a panel discussion on freedom of expression following the Paris attacks.

A 55-year-old man attending the event was killed, while three police officers were wounded. Two belonged to the Danish security service PET, which said the circumstances surrounding the shooting "indicate that we are talking about a terror attack."

The gunman then fled in a carjacked Volkswagen Polo that was found later a few kilometres away, police said.

Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who has faced numerous death threats for caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad, was one of the main speakers at the event, titled "Art, blasphemy and freedom of expression." He was whisked away by his bodyguards unharmed as the shooting began.

Vilks, 68, later told The Associated Press he believed he was the intended target of the shooting.

"What other motive could there be? It's possible it was inspired by Charlie Hebdo," he said, referring to the January 7 attack by Islamic extremists on the French newspaper that had angered Muslims by lampooning Muhammad.

Police spokesperson Joergen Skov said it was possible the gunman had planned the "same scenario" as in the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Second shooting

After searching for the first gunman for hours, police reported the second shooting in downtown Copenhagen after midnight Sunday. Wadsworth-Hansen said that gunman opened fire at two police officers outside the synagogue. They were wounded in the arms and legs but were not in life-threatening condition, while a civilian man was killed. The gunman fled on foot.

Sebastian Zepeda, a 19-year-old visitor from London, said he didn't want to leave his hotel room after hearing of the first shooting and was text messaging with his mother when the second shooting happened on the street below.

"I was on my bed and I heard gunshots. And my heart raced," Zepeda said. "All of a sudden the road was packed with police."

Witnesses in a bar across the street from the synagogue said they saw special police teams moving in with automatic rifles.

"We looked out the window and saw this guy lying on the street," said Rasmus Thau Riddersholm, 33. "We were told by police to stay in the back of the room, away from the windows and doors."

Police initially said there were two gunmen at the cultural center but later said they believed there was only one shooter. They described him as 25 to 30 years old with an athletic build and carrying a black automatic weapon.

They released a blurred photograph of the suspect wearing dark clothes and a scarf covering part of his face.

Denmark became a target of violent Islamists 10 years ago after the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, images that led to sometimes fatal protests in the Muslim world. Many Muslims consider any representation of the Prophet blasphemous.

Read more on:    prophet muhammad  |  denmark  |  security

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