A police officer stands guard during a court hearing for three suspects… (Mads Nissen, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Beirut — Three men suspected of plotting to attack a Danish newspaper that published cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad pleaded not guilty Thursday in Copenhagen to charges of attempted terrorism and illegal weapons possession, and a fourth suspect was released for lack of evidence.
A fifth man, identified by the Swedish news reports as 37-year old Sahbi Zalouti, was arraigned in a Stockholm court in connection with the alleged plot.
Danish and Swedish authorities arrested the five men, residents of Sweden and Denmark, on Wednesday as part of an investigation of a suspected plot with links to international terrorist groups.
The Danish charge sheet, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, says the men were in possession of a machine-gun and a magazine containing about 36 rounds of ammunition as well as a 9 millimeter semiautomatic gun and a silencer that they intended to use in an attack on the Copenhagen offices of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper.
It says the suspects obtained the weapons in Sweden and traveled to Denmark by car Wednesday intending to attack the newspaper's Copenhagen office and "kill an unknown number of people."
Scandinavian news media splashed headlines about the case and details about the suspects, including names and personal histories, across front pages and in extensive television coverage.
One suspect was described by Swedish news reports as a 29-year-old Lebanon-born Swedish national named Munir Awad who had twice been detained abroad on suspicion of terrorism.
In 2007, Awad reportedly was arrested by international peacekeepers in Somalia with his pregnant 17-year old wife, whose mother heads the Swedish Muslim Council, an advocacy group.
Asked why they had traveled to the war-torn African nation, where Al Qaeda-linked insurgents are fighting the government, the couple said in a news interview that they had been on vacation in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but got tired of it and wanted to visit a country with "beautiful scenery and Islamic culture."
Awad was also detained in Pakistan in 2009, along with a former Guantanamo Bay prison inmate, but was released after Sweden pressed Pakistani authorities, the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet reported.
The other two men arrested in Denmark and taken to Copenhagen's Glostrup City Court were described by news reports as Tunisian national Mounir Dhari, 44, and Swedish national Abdalla Aboelazm, 30, of unknown ancestry.
A Danish security official told The Times that Awad, Dhari and Aboelazm would remain in custody for four weeks, Awad and Khari in solitary confinement.
"Then we'll have another court meeting and decide what to do," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The fourth suspect detained in Denmark, an Iraqi seeking asylum, was released for lack of evidence, the security official said.
Authorities suspect that the man had arranged safe houses for the alleged militants and he is still regarded as a suspect, the official said.
Zalouti, the suspect arrested in Sweden, has denied the allegations, his defense lawyer told the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.
Swedish intelligence chief Anders Danielsson said Wednesday at a news conference in Copenhagen that the men had been under surveillance throughout their journey from Sweden to Denmark.
On Wednesday, Jakob Scharf, head of the Danish spy agency, described the suspects as "militant Islamists" who had sought to enter the Copenhagen offices of Jyllands-Posten and "kill as many as possible" in a "Mumbai-style" shooting attack, referring to the coordinated attacks in the Indian city in 2008 by nearly a dozen Pakistani gunmen. That assault on landmark buildings and a Jewish cultural center left about 170 people dead.
Sandels is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi contributed to this report.