A Somali man has been charged with trying to murder a Danish artist whose cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad sparked a storm of protest and violence across the Muslim world.
Danish police shot and wounded the 28-year-old man after he broke into Kurt Westergaard’s home in Aarhus armed with an axe and a knife. The suspect is said to have ties to al-Qaeda.
The 75-year-old artist had retreated to a safe room with his five-year-old granddaughter. When police arrived they tried to arrest the intruder and then shot him in the hand and knee when he threatened an officer with the axe, said Preben Nielsen of the Aarhus police.
Chief Superintendent Ole Madsen in Aarhus said the man was charged with two counts of attempted murder — one on Westergaard and one on a police officer — at a court hearing on Sunday in Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city.
“He will be in custody for four weeks and in isolation for two,” Madsen said.
The suspect’s name was not being released, in line with Danish privacy rules, Nielsen said. His wounds were serious but not life-threatening.
Westergaard was “quite shocked” by the attack but not injured, Nielsen said.
An umbrella organisation for moderate Muslims in Denmark has condemned the attack. “The Danish Muslim Union strongly distances itself from the attack and any kind of extremism that leads to such acts,” it said in a statement.
In 2005 the Jyllands-Posten newspaper published a caricature by Westergaard depicting Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a fuse. Islamic tradition says no image of the prophet should be made or shown. The Danish embassy in Damascus was burned down in 2006, others were attacked and death threats forced Westergaard into hiding.
The Somali had won an asylum case and received a residency permit, said Jakob Scharf, the head of PET, Denmark’s intelligence service. Scharf called the attack “terror related”.
“The arrested man has, according to PET’s information, close relations to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab and al-Qaeda leaders in eastern Africa,” Scharf said. “[The attack] again confirms the terror threat that is directed at Denmark and against the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in particular.”
Scharf said the man was suspected of involvement in terror-related activities in east Africa and had been under PET’s surveillance but not in connection with Westergaard.
Westergaard told his employer, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, that the assailant shouted “Revenge!” and “Blood!” as he tried to enter the bathroom where Westergaard and the child had barricaded themselves.
“He threatened to kill me. I ran out to the bathroom where our security room is. I was worried for my grandchild. I was afraid.
“I knew that I could not match him. So I alerted the police. It was scary. It was really close. But we did it. It was good … my grandchild did fine.”
Westergaard was moved to a safe place on Saturday night but was unable to say what the attempted attack would mean for his future. “It is too early to say. I must speak with PET and then we will see,” he said.
In October terror charges were brought against two Chicago men who planned to kill Westergaard and his newspaper’s former cultural editor.
In 2008 Danish police arrested two Tunisian men suspected of plotting to kill Westergaard. Neither suspect was prosecuted. One was deported and the other was released on Monday after an immigration board rejected PET’s efforts to expel him from Denmark. – guardian.co.uk