COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Danish police shot and killed a man early Sunday suspected of carrying out shooting attacks at a free speech event and then at a Copenhagen synagogue, killing two men, including a member of Denmark’s Jewish community. Five police officers were also wounded in the attacks.
Officials have not identified the perpetrator but say it is possible he was imitating the terror attacks last month in Paris in which Islamic radicals carried out a massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newsroom followed by an attack on Jews at a kosher grocery store.
“Denmark has been hit by terror,” Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said on Sunday. “We do not know the motive for the alleged perpetrator’s actions, but we know that there are forces that want to hurt Denmark. They want to rebuke our freedom of speech.”
Denmark’s Chief Rabbi, Jair Melchior, identified the Jewish victim as Dan Uzan, 37, a longtime security guard for the Danish Jewish community. He was guarding a building behind the synagogue during a bat mitzvah when he was shot in the head. Two police officers who were there were slightly wounded.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the attack and said his government plans to encourage a “massive immigration” of Jews from Europe.
“Again, Jews were murdered on European soil just because they were Jews,” Netanyahu said at the start of his Cabinet meeting Sunday. “This wave of attacks is expected to continue, as well as murderous anti-Semitic attacks. Jews deserve security in every country, but we say to our Jewish brothers and sisters, Israel is your home.”
The first shooting happened before 4 p.m. Saturday when the gunman used an automatic weapon to shoot through the windows of the Krudttoenden cultural center during a panel discussion on freedom of expression featuring a Swedish artist who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad. The artist, Lars Vilks, was whisked away unharmed by his bodyguards but a 55-year-old man attending the event was killed, while three police officers were wounded, authorities said.
The attack at the synagogue occurred hours later, shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday.
Later, the shooter was confronted by police as he returned to an address that they were keeping under surveillance. Investigators 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.
Vilks, a 68-year-old artist who has faced numerous death threats for depicting Muhammad as a dog in 2007, told The Associated Press he believed he was the intended target of the first shooting, which happened at a panel discussion titled “Art, blasphemy and freedom of expression.”
“What other motive could there be? It’s possible it was inspired by Charlie Hebdo,” he said, referring to the Jan. 7 attack by Islamic extremists on the French newspaper that had angered Muslims by lampooning Muhammad.
Police said it was possible the gunman had planned the “same scenario” as in the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
The attacks took place two days after Denmark and its partners in the European Union agreed to dramatically boost cooperation in the counter-terrorism field as a result of the January attacks in Paris, which claimed the lives of 17 victims.
The EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said Sunday it was in contact with Danish authorities and proposing its help to find out as much as possible about the Copenhagen gunman and whether he was acting alone or in concert with others.
“We are offering our expertise and capabilities from our anti-terrorist unit including access to our databases,” said Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen.
EU President Donald Tusk predicted the latest acts of violence would only strengthen Europeans’ resolve to fight all kinds of extremism and terrorism.
“We will press forward with our new agreed priorities in the fight against terrorism,” Tusk said in a statement late Saturday. “We will face this threat together.”
Leaders across Europe also condemned the violence and expressed support for Denmark. Sweden’s security service said it was sharing information with its Danish counterpart, while U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said U.S. officials were ready to help with the investigation and have been in touch with their Danish counterparts.
The depiction of the prophet is deemed insulting to many followers of Islam. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.
While many Muslims have expressed disgust at the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo employees, many were also deeply offended by its cartoons lampooning Muhammad.
Ritter reported from Stockholm. Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels and Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this story.
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