Terror Attacks by a Native Son Rock Denmark - NYTimes.com
After killing a Danish film director in a Saturday afternoon attack on a Copenhagen cafe and then a Jewish night guard at a synagogue, the 22-year-old gunman responsible for Denmark’s worst burst of terrorism in decades unleashed a final fusillade outside a four-story apartment building before dawn on Sunday.
Cornered by the police in a narrow street near the railway station in Norrebro, a heavily immigrant, shabby-chic district of Denmark’s capital, the Danish-born attacker opened fire and was killed in a burst of return fire, the police said.
His body fell face up on the sidewalk, said Soren Krebs, 22, an economics student who lives in the adjacent building, and it left a pool of blood that was hosed away Sunday afternoon by the fire department.
“My first feeling was just panic,” Mr. Krebs recalled, adding that he initially thought the gunfire was a battle between drug dealers. In Denmark, he said, “the first thing that comes to mind is not terrorism. This is not a problem we have had to think about much.”
After a January rampage in the Paris area that killed 17 people, and police raids in Belgium a week later that the authorities said thwarted a major terrorist operation, Denmark became over the weekend the latest European country plunged into what Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt described Sunday as “a fight for freedom against a dark ideology.”
Though the gunman’s name and basic biographical details were still unclear late Sunday, he appears to have shared some traits with at least two of the militants responsible for the Paris violence, notably a criminal record and an abrupt transition from street crime to Islamic militancy.
The Danish news media identified him as Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, but the Copenhagen police did not confirm his name. They identified him only as a 22-year-old, born and raised in Denmark, whom they knew for gang-related activity and for several criminal offenses linked to weapons violations and violence.
A Copenhagen police statement issued in November 2013 asked for help in finding a suspect by the same name who was wanted at the time in connection with a stabbing on a commuter train. The police noted then that the suspect “should be considered dangerous.”
This weekend Ms. Thorning-Schmidt warned the usually placid nation — whose 5.6 million citizens regularly rank in opinion surveys as among the world’s happiest people — that “if a madman is willing to sacrifice his life, then we will never be able to guard ourselves 100 percent.”
Heavily armed police officers were out in force across Copenhagen, the Danish capital, on Sunday. Though the authorities said the gunman appeared to be acting alone, police officers raided a number of homes and other places, including an Internet cafe. The local news media reported that at least two people had been detained, but a police spokesman, Soren Hansen, said he could not confirm any arrests.
In the Norrebro district, a search of the gunman’s apartment uncovered an automatic weapon, the spokesman said. The attacker was carrying two guns — including the weapon apparently used to kill the director and the Jewish security guard — when he was shot early Sunday outside the window of Mr. Krebs, the student.
Continue reading the main story Awakened by a burst of gunfire shortly after 5 a.m., Mr. Krebs said, he looked out of his ground-floor bedroom to witness a shootout “like in a movie” and then crawled next door to the room of a fellow student, Casper Dam, who had been out late drinking and was asleep. The two terrified men took refuge in a bathroom away from the street.
Jens Madsen, the chief of Denmark’s domestic security agency, known as P.E.T., said there was no indication the gunman had traveled to Syria or Iraq as a jihadist fighter or had any connection to the two French-born brothers who attacked the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 or a third Frenchman who, two days later, seized a Paris kosher supermarket and killed shoppers there.
But Mr. Madsen, speaking to reporters at Copenhagen’s Police Headquarters on Sunday, said it was possible that the city’s attacks had been “inspired” by the Paris bloodshed.
While most Danes responded with shock to the weekend shootings, the country’s security services have been on alert against Islamic extremism since 2005, when the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and, several months later, a Copenhagen mosque sent a mission to the Middle East to rally hostility against Denmark. Danish diplomatic missions were attacked and Danish businesses boycotted across the Muslim world.
In an editorial to be published Monday, Jyllands Posten said, “Unfortunately, it is difficult to claim surprise at the attacks in Copenhagen.” Terrorism, it added, was “not a question of if, but when.”
Kurt Westergaard, who drew a cartoon for the newspaper that showed Muhammad with a bomb in a black turban, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in 2010, fleeing into a safe room at his home in the port city of Aarhus to escape a young Somali armed with an ax and a knife.
In 2013, Lars Hedegaard, an outspoken critic of Islam and a defender of Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist who appeared to have been targeted at the cafe, was shot at outside his Copenhagen home by a gunman disguised as a postal worker.
The weekend violence, however, still represented the worst terrorism to hit Denmark since the 1980s, when left-wing extremists killed a police officer in the capital and still-unidentified extremists planted bombs near a Copenhagen synagogue and the offices of an American airline.
In its response to the threat since the cartoon crisis, the authorities have combined extensive surveillance of suspected militants and of radical mosques with efforts to “rehabilitate,” rather than punish, young Muslims who dabble in extremism but have not yet been implicated in criminal actions. While most European governments have sought to arrest or expel residents who have returned home after waging jihad in Syria and Iraq, for example, the city of Aarhus has set up a counseling program to help them reintegrate into society.
Like the Paris gunmen, the 22-year-old responsible for the weekend’s killings in Copenhagen was born in the country he sought to terrorize, into a Muslim immigrant family. He had a criminal record, and Danish TV2 television said he had been released from prison just weeks earlier.
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story His first attack took place Saturday afternoon when he sprayed bullets into the cafe where Mr. Vilks, who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, was speaking. That attack killed one man, identified by the Danish media as Finn Norgaard, 55, a film director. Three police officers were wounded. Mr. Vilks, who was attending a meeting on freedom of speech, was not hurt.
The gunman then fled by car, and the vehicle was later found abandoned. Video footage from surveillance cameras showed the suspect talking into a cellphone, apparently to order a taxi. He then took a cab to Mjolnerparken, an area of Norrebro, where surveillance cameras caught him entering a housing compound and leaving 20 minutes later.
He then reappeared, according to the police, shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday at a synagogue in the center of the city, opening fire on the police and security guards, one of whom was killed.
Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, a leader of Denmark’s Jewish community, said that the victim at the synagogue was a young Jewish man who was guarding a building adjacent to the synagogue. He said that about 80 people were inside the synagogue at the time celebrating a bat mitzvah, and that the police had been asked to provide protection after the cafe shooting. Denmark’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, identified the victim as Dan Uzan, 37, a longtime security guard.
Soren Esperson, deputy chairman of the Danish People’s Party, a right-wing populist party, said the attack “looks very much like a copycat action.”
He said, “It has the same targets as in Paris: a cartoonist, Jews and the police.” A loud critic of immigration, his party has surged in recent years.
Mr. Esperson derided pleas from leading mainstream politicians, including the prime minister, that Islam not be blamed for the violence. “Of course this has something to do with Islam just as the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and witch burning had
something to do with Christianity,” he said. Christianity, he added, had “dealt with its fanatics,” and Islam “must now do the same.”
Muslim organizations in Denmark condemned the attacks. The Islamic Religious Community, an umbrella organization, denounced what it called a “wrong action” and also called on the Danish authorities to “show their solidarity with all, including Muslims, who will undoubtedly be the next victims in daily life.”
Meanwhile, the authorities and residents in the neighborhood where the gunman lived are scrambling to learn how a common criminal seemingly turned into a violent zealot.
Mohammud Awil, who has lived in Mjolnerparken since emigrating from Somalia 26 years ago, blamed extremist self-declared preachers who “pick on young people who drink or use drugs because they are very weak.” Mr. Awil, a bus driver, said he knew several families whose Danish-born children had gone to fight in Somalia or the Middle East. “They get brainwashed,” he said.
Ms. Thorning-Schmidt sought to calm tensions after the attacks, saying, “This is not a war between Islam and the West.”