Prophet cartoons haunt Denmark as verdict nears
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A Danish court will rule on Monday whether four men plotted a slaughter at a newspaper in revenge for its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad - an event that took place seven years ago, and is set to haunt Denmark for years to come.
Three Swedes and a Tunisian have pleaded not guilty to planning a massacre at the Copenhagen offices of Jyllands-Posten.
Police said the attack was meant to "kill as many as possible" and been foiled with just days to spare.
It was only the latest of a number of incidents stemming from the cartoons.
Last year an axe-wielding Somali was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to kill cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, the author of the most famous of the cartoons, in a break-in at his home on New Year's Day 2010.
And this week two young Danish brothers originally from Somalia were also arrested for plotting an attack believed to have been inspired by the cartoons' publication.
The head of Denmark's state security police has no doubt about their consequences.
"What we see in our work is that the cartoons are still being used as an important part of their propaganda by al Qaeda and by other militant Islamist groups," Jakob Scharf, head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service PET, told Reuters.
"It has become part of, if you like, the story-telling of militant Islamism, the story-telling of how Muslims are being ridiculed, how they are being offended by Western countries like Denmark."
That narrative means Denmark could remain a target for five or 10 years, he said.
Jyllands-Posten was the first paper to print a set of a dozen cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad in 2005. The most famous depicted him wearing a bomb as a turban.
Protests flared against Danish interests abroad, along with riots in several countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia in 2006 in which at least 50 people died.
Scharf said al Qaeda and the militant Somali Islamist group al Shabaab had both used the cartoons "very efficiently".
"This has led to a situation where in particular potential targets in Denmark linked to the cartoons - the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the cartoonists, other individuals linked to the cartoons - are seen as not only legitimate but also very attractive targets for militant Islamists," he said.
The defendants in the trial concluding on Monday were arrested in a joint Danish-Swedish operation in the suburbs of Copenhagen and Stockholm on December 29, 2010. One pleaded guilty to illegally possessing weapons, a charge the others denied.
Police said they had found a machinegun with a silencer and ammunition and plastic strips for possible use as handcuffs in the assault, planned for January 1, 2011.
When the trial opened on April 13, one of the accused was heard saying on recordings from a police interrogation that the other three had planned the attack, but that he wanted no part in it.
He then said the plot was a response to the caricatures of the Prophet, which he said had continued to provoke Muslims.
Security agencies have grown concerned that al Shabaab in particular is recruiting and raising an increasingly multi-ethnic generation of militants who could engage in jihadist activities outside Somalia.
The PET said this week's arrests of the two brothers, aged 18 and 23, had foiled a "specific act of terrorism".
"They are suspected of planning a terrorist attack either in Denmark or abroad," Scharf said.
The elder of the two young Somalis is also charged with attending a training camp of the militant Islamist group al Shabaab in Somalia, an offence punishable in Denmark with up to six years in jail. Scharf said the Somali jailed for attacking Westergaard had also been at an al Shabaab training camp.
He declined to give more details about the planned attack as the investigation was continuing.
But he said: "If there is a prosecution and court proceedings, I will be very surprised if the cartoons do not come up."
(Additional reporting by Mette Fraende; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Kevin Liffey)
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