COPENHAGEN – Courts in Denmark and Sweden on Thursday remanded four men in custody over a foiled plot to carry out a Mumbai-style killing spree at a Danish newspaper that published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
Five men were arrested Wednesday in both countries for hatching what Danish officials said was a plan to kill as many people as possible in an assault on the Copenhagen offices of the Jyllands-Posten daily.
The paper published in September 2005 a dozen cartoons of the Muslim prophet that later triggered violent and sometimes deadly protests around the world.
A court in Glostrup, near Copenhagen, remanded three men in custody for four weeks after a closed-door hearing, while another closed hearing in Stockholm resulted in the two-week detention of a fourth man connected to the case.
Denmark's intelligence service, PET, identified the men remanded in that country only as a 44-year-old Tunisian, a 29-year-old Swede born in Lebanon, and a 30-year-old Swede.
It said all three men lived in Sweden and had driven to the Copenhagen suburbs overnight on Tuesday.
The men would face charges of “attempted terrorism” and were part of “a militant Islamic group with links to international terrorist networks,” it said.
On Wednesday PET chief Jakob Scharf told reporters “the plan was to try to gain access to the location of Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen and to try to carry out a Mumbai-style attack.”
The 2008 attacks in Mumbai saw 10 heavily armed gunmen storm three luxury hotels, the city's main railway station, a popular tourist restaurant and a Jewish centre and left 160 people dead.
Swedish tabloid Expressen named the trio as Mounir Dhahri, Munir Awad and Omar Abdalla Aboelazm.
The paper reported that Awad had been arrested twice before on suspicion of links to terrorism: in 2007 in Somalia and in 2009 in Pakistan along with Mehdi Ghezali, a Swede who had spent two years in Guantanamo Bay.
Swedish foreign ministry spokesman Anders Joerle would not confirm that the men named by Expressen where the Danish terror plot suspects, but did say that “of the names put forth in media, we recognised two names as people who have been jailed abroad.”
One of them had been jailed both in Somalia and Pakistan and the other in Pakistan “on suspicion of terrorism and especially for being in the country illegally,” he told AFP.
A court in the Stockholm suburb of Sollentuna decided meanwhile to detain a fourth man — Sahbi Zalouti, a 37-year-old Swede of Tunisian origin who was arrested in Stockholm Wednesday on suspicion of “preparing terrorist crimes.”
PET spokeswoman Trine Marie Ilsoee said a fifth man detained Wednesday — a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker arrested in his apartment in the Copenhagen suburb Greve — would be released.
“He is still suspected of trying to conduct terrorism,” she told AFP, not specifying why he had not been sent before a judge.
Danish media however reported the suspicions against the man, identified only by his initials A.S., were not as serious as against his suspected accomplices.
His 24-year-old brother Farooq Muhammad Salman told AFP that A.S. “didn't think they (the four men remanded in custody) were planning to do terror.”
He “was completely relaxed, because inside he knew he doesn't have anything to do with terror, so he wasn't afraid of being charged with terror,” Salman said.
The brother told public broadcaster DR A.S had lost the sight in one eye and hearing in one ear due to cancer and was still “sick and does not go out much,” except to the mosque for Friday prayers since he had become deeply religious.
He had, according to his brother, met two of the other suspects when he travelled to Stockholm to propose to a woman there.
A.S. reportedly arranged for his three suspected accomplices to stay at the apartment of a friend who was travelling abroad.
Swedish intelligence agency Saepo said it had the four Sweden-based men under surveillance for several months.
The alleged plot was uncovered just weeks after a man blew himself up in Stockholm on December 11 in Sweden's first suicide bombing.
The attacker, who referred in an email before the blasts to a controversial drawing of the Prophet Mohammed by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, was the only person killed, but two other people were wounded when his car exploded nearby minutes earlier.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia