Reporting from Beirut and London — Denmark Jyllands-Posten, Muhammad cartoon, terrorism: Five suspected militants arrested in Denmark terrorism plot
Scandinavian authorities thwarted what they describe as a terrorist attack in Denmark targeting the newspaper that published the infamous caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, arresting five suspected Islamic militants Wednesday.
According to a statement published by the Danish spy agency PET, the suspected militants' target was the Copenhagen offices of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that in 2005 published cartoons depicting Muhammad, who founded the Islamic religion in the 7th century. The cartoons prompted an international uproar.
Jakob Scharf, head of the PET, described the suspects as "militant Islamists" with "connections to international terror networks" who had sought to penetrate the offices of Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen and "kill as many as possible."
At a joint news conference held Wednesday in Copenhagen by Danish and Swedish intelligence, Scharf said the planned attack had been imminent.
"The attack would be carried out before Jan. 1 and one would have then entered the newspaper and using the machine gun, [killed] as many as possible," he said.
The alleged plot underscores what security officials see as a rising threat by Islamic extremists against Scandinavian countries that once considered themselves unlikely targets.
Denmark, Sweden and Norway, all with histories of relatively liberal immigration and asylum policies, contribute troops to the American-dominated force backing the government of Afghanistan. Islamic extremists see the mission as a foreign occupation of Muslim land.
Both Sweden and Denmark drew the ire of Islamic extremists after cartoonists published what many Muslims considered demeaning caricatures of Muhammad.
"Obviously the cartoons have been used very efficiently by militant Islamist groups worldwide in targeting Denmark specifically and trying explain why the violent extremism is necessary," Scharf said.
Kevin McGwin, managing editor of another Danish newspaper, the Copenhagen Post, told Al Jazeera news agency that the latest incident was the seventh attack or threat against the Jyllands-Posten building or someone connected with the newspaper since 2008.
"They have upped security both at their Copenhagen offices as well as … in another part of the country very seriously," he said.
Four of the five suspects were found in apartments in Greve, 12 miles from the Danish capital, Copenhagen, and the Copenhagen suburb of Herlev, according to the PET's statement. A fifth suspect was arrested in Stockholm, the Swedish capital.
Danish security authorities said they seized plastic strips that can be used as handcuffs, a gun with a silencer and live ammunition.
Scharf said at the news conference that the arrests were the result of a lengthy investigation by Danish and Swedish police and intelligence forces.
A Swedish security spokesman told The Times that four of those arrested live in Sweden and one in Denmark, and that three are Swedish nationals. One suspect is a Tunisian national, said Petter Liljeblad, spokesman for the Swedish security service, SAPO.
The arrested people have been under close scrutiny by SAPO, according to Swedish intelligence chief Anders Danielsson, who spoke at the news conference.
"A few months ago we got in touch with our Danish colleagues and decided that we would make a joint action," he said.
Some of the members of the militant group traveled to Denmark on Tuesday night, the PET statement said. The men were under surveillance during the entire trip, Danielsson said. "We knew that there were weapons in the car," he said.
The agency described the suspects arrested in Denmark as: a 44-year-old Tunisian national; a 29-year-old Lebanese-born Swedish national; a 30-year-old Swedish citizen of unknown ancestry; and a 26-year-old Iraqi seeking asylum in Denmark.
A 37-year-old Swedish citizen of Tunisian origin was arrested in Stockholm, the PET statement said.
Danielsson said that the person arrested in Sweden had chosen to not go along with the others to Denmark and that he was taken peacefully by a Swedish task force.
A statement released by Swedish security forces said that police had yet to find any connection between the alleged newspaper plot and a failed Dec. 11 Stockholm suicide bombing that injured two bystanders and killed the attacker, an Iraqi immigrant to Sweden.
Special correspondent Sandels reported from Beirut and Times staff writer Stobart from London. Times staff writer Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.