Danish police arrest three in cartoonist murder plot

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scan of the cartoons as printed on page 3 of the "KulturWeekend" section of Jyllands-Posten's September 30, 2005, edition.

In the early hours of Tuesday, Denmark's Politiets Efterretningstjeneste (PET) (Danish Security Intelligence Service), arrested three people for their connection to an alleged plot to murder one of the cartoonists from the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.

On September 30, 2005, Jyllands-Posten a Danish newspaper, published twelve cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. The paper solicited the cartoons for an article that explored "self-censorship" with regards to criticism of Islam. One of the cartoonists that responded was Kurt Westergaard, who contributed an image of Muhammed with a turban that looks like a bomb.

PET says that Westergaard was the target of an alleged plot to murder him. At 4:30 a.m. CET (UTC+1), in a pre-dawn raid, they arrested three men in Aarhus, Denmark. The men, two Tunisians and one Danish citizen of Moroccan origin, are suspected of planning to kill Westergaard.

PET commissioner Jakob Scharf said, "The purpose of the clampdown was to prevent a terror- related homicide. The clampdown occurred after a long period of surveillance."

The Danish citizen has been released. It is thought that this means that the evidence against him is not very strong. However, the 40-year-old man "will continue to be of interest for the PET" says Scharf.

The two other men, said to be 25 and 36 years of age, and who by all accounts were in Denmark legally, face deportation back to Tunisia. They are due to remain in custody until a judge can review their case on Thursday. "I have no idea about what is going to happen next. The ball is in the court of PET, and they are they ones who need to start talking and explain the meaning of all this. I have no idea what the next step is," said the public defender assigned to the Tunisians.

The government and the PET has yet to present their case in court. As a result, it is unknown what evidence there is of a plot. Also, it is unknown if the men were under orders from groups outside of Denmark, as has been speculated by media.

However, Scharf says that the pre-emptive police action "was to prevent a planned killing of one of the cartoonists behind the Muhammed-drawings." The primary objective was not to jail or deport anyone, but to prevent a murder.

The Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, commented: "Unfortunately, this case shows, that in Denmark, too, there are groups of extremists, who do not recognize and respect the founding principles upon which the Danish people's government is built."

Meanwhile, the editors-in-chief at the three biggest newspapers in Denmark have seen the alleged plot as a threat to their freedom of speech. These papers are Jyllands-Posten, Politiken og Berlingske Tidende. To reassert their rights they all plan to republish the controversial Muhammad drawings on Wednesday.

"We must in Danish media send a clear and unambiguous message to all, that might get the same insane thoughts, as those who would attack Kurt Westergaard," says Berlingske Tidende chief-editor Lisbeth Knudsen.

Westergaard, who is 73 years old, has been under police protection since he received death-threats shortly after the original publication of the cartoons. "I fear for my life, when the police tell me there are certain people who are working with concrete plans to kill me," he says.