Copenhagen Suspect ‘Was Released from Prison Two Weeks Ago’

David Chazan and Julian Isherwood, Telegraph, February 15, 2015

Terror returned to Europe at the weekend when a suspected Islamist extremist gunned down two people in separate attacks on a Copenhagen café and a synagogue before being killed by police in a predawn shoot-out on Sunday.

The dead suspect, named on Sunday night as Omar el-Hussein, had reportedly been released from prison two weeks ago after serving a two-year sentence for grievous bodily harm.

Omar el-Hussein

Omar el-Hussein

In a rampage with parallels to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris five weeks earlier, the 22-year-old Danish-born assailant fired around 40 shots at a free speech debate in an arts café on Saturday afternoon, killing a 55-year-old documentary filmmaker, Finn Norgaard.

Finn Norgaard

Finn Norgaard

After fleeing in a stolen car, the gunman went on to target a girl’s bat mitzvah party at Copenhagen’s main synagogue at one o’clock on Sunday morning, shooting dead Dan Uzan, 37, an economist at the Danish treasury, who was acting as a volunteer security guard.

Dan Uzan

Dan Uzan

The gunman was then later killed after a shoot-out with police at a train station in central Copenhagen. Up to four other people were being held by police on Sunday night following raids across the country.

As with the Charlie Hebdo attackers, the head of the Danish security and intelligence service, Jens Madsen, said on Sunday that the gunman had been identified as a potential threat.

“He was on the radar but he was not known to have travelled to conflict areas like Iraq or Syria,” Mr Madsen said. “We cannot yet say anything concrete about the motive . . . but we are considering that he might have been inspired by the events in Paris,” he told a news conference.

Police traced the killer from CCTV footage from the arts café attack, which showed him abandoning his getaway car, a stolen Volkswagen Polo, and taking a taxi. They questioned the driver, and went to the address in the mainly immigrant area of Norrebro where he had dropped off the suspect.

The gunman had left again by the time police arrived at his home, near the railway station, and went on to attack the synagogue. When he returned around 5am, police tried to apprehend him but shot him dead after he opened fire on them.

In an indication that the gunman may have had accomplices, four people were arrested when a dozen armed police raided an internet café in central Copenhagen. Among the four were a Pakistani and an Arab, according to Danish media reports.

Witnesses at both attacks said further killings were only averted by the swift intervention of the police, who have been on high alert in the Danish capital since the Paris shootings.

Despite the increased tensions, Copenhagen, which is considered one of the safest capitals of the world, was bustling with people defiantly strolling and cycling in the historic city centre on Sunday.

“We should not be afraid,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister, who was among hundreds of people who laid floral tributes at the synagogue and the café.

“We have tasted the ugly taste of fear and powerlessness that terror would like to create. But we have also, as a society, answered back.”

The shootings came as little surprise to most Danes. “It was not a question of if, but when,” said Malte Bern Jensen, 29, a civil servant.

“Everybody knew it was coming after the Charlie Hebdo shootings because a Danish newspaper also published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed,” he said.

Twelve people were killed in an attack on the office of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. They included cartoonists who had caricatured the prophet.

A Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks, who had angered many Muslims by depicting the prophet’s head on the body of a dog, was at the free speech debate in Copenhagen during the attack, leading many to conclude that he may have been the main target.

The French ambassador was also present at the debate at the arts café, Krudttonden, which means “powder keg’ in Danish.

Vilks, 68, the target of several attempted attacks in recent years, was spirited away to an undisclosed location under police guard after the shootings, during which he hid in a cold store.

He told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet by telephone that he had been expecting another attack.

“It is a tragedy, obviously, but it was expected that this would happen sooner or later. And it’s not the last time either.”

He said the presence of his police bodyguards had helped to avert “a bloodbath” as the gunman failed to get past a policeman at the door of the café.

“I saw a policeman who had been shot in the leg,” he said.

“Nevertheless he continued his job and wouldn’t give in. It could have been a massacre.”

Zubair Butt Hussein of the Danish Islamic Council said most Muslims were appalled by the attacks, stating: “We are disgusted at what has happened. In Denmark we are free to think what we want. But there is nothing that can allow what happened. We must counter this as a united nation.”

Queen Margrethe also called for national unity. “It is important that in such a serious situation we stand together and defend the values upon which Denmark is built,” she said.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said: “The shootings in Copenhagen are an appalling attack on free speech and religious freedom. Two innocent people have been murdered simply for their beliefs and my thoughts are with their loved ones and all those injured at this tragic time.

“Denmark and Britain are both successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracies and we must never allow those values to be damaged by acts of violence like this.”

Nine years ago, Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper inflamed the Muslim world by publishing 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, including one that depicted him with a bomb in his turban.

A Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, who survived an axe attack at his home in 2010 after caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed, said: “It can’t be right that we should be afraid to use our right to free speech.”

Norgaard, the filmmaker who was killed at the café, was best known for a documentary made in Australia called The Boy with the Boomerang.

His friend Majken Matzau, a psychologist, described him as “an unbelievable warm and creative person, dedicated and fantastic. He practised yoga and was a very spiritual type.”

Dan Uzan, the economist who was standing guard at the synagogue when he was shot dead, was a well-liked former footballer with a Jewish amateur team.

“He was a handsome guy about six foot five and always had a smile,” said a friend, who declined to be named. A note placed outside the synagogue by Baruch Dayan read: “Dear Dan, you gave your life to save us.”

Both the victims were unmarried.

Security was tightened at a bridge to Sweden outside Copenhagen used daily by tens of thousands of commuters, and also on the border with Germany.

A carnival in northern Germany was called off at short notice after security agencies warned of a “specific threat of an Islamist attack”.

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