Danish police on Tuesday arrested several people suspected of planning to attack one of the cartoonists who drew controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for Denmark’s biggest daily in 2005, police said.
The Danish intelligence agency PET ”conducted a police operation at 4.30am [local time] in the Aarhus region in cooperation with local police to prevent a murder linked to terrorism”, PET chief Jakob Scharf said in a statement.
The raid was carried out ”after lengthy surveillance”.
PET did not indicate how many people had been arrested, nor their identities or nationalities, nor the identity of the cartoonist targeted in the plan.
Public service Danmarks Radio said, however, that five people were arrested, including three Danish nationals. All five were of Muslim background, it said.
The online edition of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published the cartoons in its print edition in September 2005, meanwhile identified the caricaturist as Kurt Westergaard.
Westergaard drew what was considered the most controversial of the drawings, featuring the prophet’s head with a turban looking like a bomb with a lit fuse.
Westergaard (73) and his wife Gitte had been provided with heavy police protection for the past three months and were moved frequently to secret locations after they received death threats, the newspaper said.
Jyllands-Posten, whose headquarters are in Aarhus in western Denmark, said the threats were concrete, involving Danes and foreigners.
The Danish Muhammad cartoons were considered offensive by many Muslims and their publication sparked violent protests in a number of Muslim countries in January and February 2006.
Demonstrators burned Danish flags and threatened the Scandinavian country. The protests culminated in February 2006 with the torching of Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus and Beirut and dozens of deaths in Nigeria, Libya and Pakistan.
Scharf said the PET ”didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks” and chose to ”intervene at a very early phase to put an end to these plans to carry out the murder”.
Westergaard said in a statement to Jyllands-Posten that he ”feared for his life”.
”I’ve only done my job and I continue to do so. But I don’t know how long I will live under police protection,” he said.
”But I think the consequences of this crazy reaction will continue as long as I live. It is sad but this has become my life,” he said.
The editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, Carsten Juste, said Tuesday on the paper’s website that management had ”followed for several months and with profound concern PET’s discreet efforts to protect Kurt Westergaard from these murder plans”.
”It is shameful that a man who is doing his job well and in accordance with Danish law and press ethics is rewarded with demonisation and concrete murder threats,” he said. — AFP