One dead, three police hurt in shooting at Copenhagen Islam debate

14th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

A gunman killed at least one person and wounded three police officers after opening fire Saturday on a cultural centre in Copenhagen as it was hosting a debate on Islam and free speech.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks -- the author of controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons that sparked worldwide protests in 2007 -- was among those at the debate targeted by the gunman, who fled the scene after a shootout with police.

Danish Prime Minister Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt described the assault as "a terrorist attack" as Danish television showed the windows of the Krudttonden cultural centre pock-marked by multiple bullet holes.

Police released a photo of the suspect showing a man in a dark anorak and a maroon hat carrying a black bag.

They described him as 25-30 years old, around 185cm (six feet) tall, with an athletic build.

French ambassador to Denmark Francois Zimeray, who had been present at the debate but was not hurt, told AFP the shooting was an attempt to replicate the January 7 killings at the Charlie Hebdo weekly in Paris.

"They shot from the outside (and) had the same intention as Charlie Hebdo, only they didn't manage to get in," he said by telephone from the venue.

"Intuitively I would say there were at least 50 gunshots, and the police here are saying 200," he told AFP.

"Bullets went through the doors and everyone threw themselves to the floor."

A statement by Danish police said "an unidentified man died after having been hit by bullets" in the strike, and three officers were wounded in the shooting.

Police initially said two suspects had fled the scene in a Volkswagen Polo. The car was found abandoned around two hours after the attack.

After witness statements indicated there was just one attacker, police later said they were hunting for a lone gunman.

Media reports said it was likely the gunman used an automatic rifle to fire as many rounds as possible in a short time.

"Denmark has today been hit by a cynical act of violence. Everything leads us to believe that the shooting was a political attack and therefore a terrorist act," the Danish premier said in a statement.

The assault comes at a time of heightened security and rising fears of Islamist attacks, following January 7-9 incidents in Paris that left 17 people dead.

Anti-terror sweeps carried out across Europe since mid-January have resulted in the arrests of dozens of suspected jihadists and seizures of large stocks of weapons and explosives.

- 'Bullets went through doors' -

Raids in Belgium on January 17 thwarted what police called imminent "terrorist attacks to kill police officers on public roads and in police stations."

Two suspects were killed fighting Belgian police in those sweeps.

Satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo raised the ire of Islamist extremists by republishing cartoons by Vilks and other caricatures, and periodically satirising Islam.

Vilks has been under police protection since his earlier controversial cartoons were published.

Concern of renewed attacks targeting symbols of freedom of speech and the press have been growing since the Charlie Hebdo assault, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire told AFP after the Copenhagen assault.

"It's something that we feared after Charlie Hebdo. We see that ultra-radical groups are leading a war against freedom of expression, against the freedom to be irreverent about religion and against the simple freedom to debate them," Deloire said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned what he called a "terrorist attack targeting a public meeting", saying in a statement that France "remains by the side of the Danish authorities and people in the fight against terrorism."

The French president's office said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was headed to the scene.


© 2015 AFP

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