Dane and Tunisians arrested in cartoonist murder plot
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A Danish citizen of Moroccan descent and two Tunisians were arrested in Denmark on Tuesday over a plot to murder one of 12 cartoonists whose drawings of the Prophet Mohammad caused worldwide uproar in 2006.
The Security and Intelligence Service (PET) said the arrests near Aarhus in western Denmark were made after lengthy surveillance to prevent a "terror-related killing" that was in an early stage of planning.
PET said it expected the 40-year-old Danish citizen to be released pending further investigation. The Tunisians will remain detained while deportation proceedings are brought against them.
According to Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that originally published the cartoons in September 2005, the suspects are accused of planning to kill 73-year-old Kurt Westergaard.
He drew the cartoon that caused the most controversy, depicting the founder of Islam with a bomb in his turban. The paper reproduced that drawing on its Web site on Tuesday.
Westergaard, who has been under PET protection for several months, told Danish state TV he was sure the PET's interference had saved his life. But he said even with hindsight he would still have made the drawing.
The cartoons gained little initial attention but were later reprinted outside Denmark, provoking outrage among Muslims, most of whom deem any depiction of the Prophet as offensive.
Three Danish embassies were attacked and at least 50 people were killed in rioting in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Several young Muslims have since been convicted in Denmark of planning bomb attacks, partly in protest at the cartoons.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was deeply concerned by the serious nature of the crime.
"Unfortunately, the matter shows that there are in Denmark groups of extremists that do not acknowledge and respect the principles on which Danish democracy is built," Rasmussen said in a statement. "In Denmark, we have freedom not only to think and talk, but also to draw."
The Islamic Faith Community, a religious Muslim organisation at the centre of the cartoon controversy, condemned the plot, saying all disagreements should be handled via legal channels.
"It does not serve our purpose that people take the law into their own hands. On the contrary," it said in a statement. "We want to appeal to reason in both politicians and the media to not use this miserable example to feed the flames or use it for their own profit. No one in Denmark deserves to live in fear."
In the 2006 book "The Mohammad Crisis" written by former Reuters correspondent Per Bech Thomsen, Westergaard said he did not expect the cartoons to become a global affair.
"The idea was to illustrate that terrorists get their ammunition from the fundamentalist parts of Islam. It was not aimed at Muslims and Islam in general, but against the part that inspires and uses death and destruction," he said in the book.
Westergaard, a staff cartoonist at Jyllands-Posten who has been accused of being both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian in the past, told Thomsen he felt misunderstood.
"I was part of the project to strike a blow for freedom of expression and the anger over being threatened because one does one's work drowns out the fear," he said in the book.
(Editing by Catherine Evans)
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