The three Swedish nationals and one Tunisian living in Sweden had pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges but a district court found all four “guilty of terrorism”, chief judge Katrine Eriksen said in the unanimous verdict, which was broadcast live.
Sahbi Ben Mohamed Zalouti, Munir Awad and Omar Abdalla Aboelazm – all Swedish citizens of Tunisian, Lebanese and Moroccan origin, respectively – and Tunisian national Mounir Ben Mohamed Dhahri were found not guilty of a secondary charge of weapons possession due to a technicality, she said.
Prosecutors had charged that the four planned to “kill a large number of people” at the offices of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen when they were arrested on December 29 2010.
The daily paper in 2005 published a dozen cartoons of Islam’s founding prophet that triggered violent and sometimes deadly protests around the world.
The court was set to hand down its sentence later on Monday, and the four, aged 31 to 46, risk up to 16 years behind bars – which would be historically severe punishment for such a case in Denmark, where conspiracy to commit terrorism until now has been punished with no more than 12 years prison.
‘We were very close’
Prosecutor Gyrithe Ulrich told Jyllands-Posten on Monday that “this case is different from other cases and should result in a stricter penalty.
“They were close to carrying out [the attack]. This was not just initial preparations as we have seen in other cases,” she said. “In this case we were very close.”
A machine-gun with a silencer, a revolver, 108 bullets, 200 plastic handcuff strips and $20 000 were among the items found in the men’s possession when they were arrested.
Danish police, who had been collaborating with their Swedish counterparts and had been wiretapping the men, said they swooped on them just after hearing them say they were going to the Jyllands-Posten office building, which also houses Denmark’s paper of reference, Politiken.
The four all adamantly denied the terrorism charge but Dhahri pleaded guilty to arms possession.
Awad, Aboelazm and Dhahri were all arrested in a Copenhagen suburb, while Zalouti was arrested near Stockholm the same day.
Prosecutors said during the trial that the target of the suspected plot was likely an award ceremony celebrating the “Sporting Newcomer of the Year” at the Jyllands-Posten building.
In addition to a number of sports celebrities, Danish Crown Prince Frederik was present at the ceremony, but prosecutors said the four did not appear to have known he was there and that he was probably not their target.
During the trial, prosecutors also charged that the men had been planning on attacking other random buildings if they were unable to get into the newspaper building.
Jyllands-Posten has been the target of a string of attempted and plotted attacks, and remains a top target for Islamic extremists, Danish intelligence service PET said at the end of January. – Sapa-AFP