Somali charged with attempt to kill Danish cartoonist

Danish police on Saturday charged a Somali man with the attempted murder of a cartoonist whose caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed (PBUH) sparked riots and protests around the world.

The axe-wielding 28-year-old broke into Kurt Westergaard's home late Friday, screaming for "revenge" and "blood." The cartoonist hid in a panic room with a five-year-old grand-daughter and called the police.

Police said he threw the axe at one officer who arrived on the scene, just missing him, then attacked with a knife before they shot him in the arm and thigh.

He was stretchered into court at Aarhus, northwest Denmark, on Saturday wearing a hospital gown and covered with blankets, the Ritzau agency reported.

He had one arm bandaged, a leg in a splint and a towel over his face to avoid identification, media reports said, while describing him as bearded with a shaved head.

Charged with double attempted murder, he was remanded in custody for four weeks, the first two of them in solitary confinement, said a court spokesman.

Although the accused has not been named, Danish intelligence officers say he lived near the capital Copenhagen and had been linked both to Somalia's Shebab Islamic movement and the leaders of Al-Qaeda in east Africa.

"He is also suspected of being implicated in terrorist activities when he was in east Africa," the statement added.

"The individual arrested has also been a member of a terrorist network implanted in Denmark that has been under surveillance by PET for a long time."

PET chief Jakob Scharf told the Ritzua agency: "Apparently everything indicates he acted alone, and maybe had a sudden impulsion. Several elements of the investigation point towards this theory."

Somalia's radical Islamic Shebab group hailed the attack.

"We appreciate the incident in which a Muslim Somali boy attacked the devil who abused our prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and we call upon all Muslims around the world to target people like (him)," spokesman Sheikh Ali Muhamud Rage said.

Westergaard is one of 12 cartoonists whose drawings on Islam were first published in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September, 2005. His cartoon depicted Mohammed (PBUH) wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb.

The cartoons were considered offensive by many Muslims and their publication sparked violent protests worldwide in January and February 2006 as well as a string of death threats.

Westergaard, 74, was badly shaken by the attack at his home at Viby, near Aarhus.

He described on the Jyllands-Posten's website how the attacker smashed the front door with the axe, screaming "revenge" and "blood" in Danish.

"I hid in the secure room when he entered the house. I knew I had no chance of stopping him so I called the police," Westergaard said.

"It was horrible. The most important thing was that I had the reaction to secure myself. But it was close, very close."

Bent Preben Nielsen, chief police inspector for East Jutland,said that police who went to the scene fired at the aggressor as he threatened them with the axe and a knife, hitting him in the hip and the right hand.

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders said they hoped the courts would deal severely with the person responsible.

"Free expression must be defended against representatives of minority viewpoints who use weapons in a bid to impose terror and silence," said the group in a statement.

Protests over the cartoons saw demonstrators burn Danish flags and torch Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran, while dozens of people died in rioting in Nigeria, Libya and Pakistan.

Two Tunisians were arrested in Denmark in 2008 on suspicion of planning to murder Westergaard but released without trial after appealing a government order for their expulsion on national security grounds.

Internet hackers last April attacked a website run by Denmark's Free Press Society selling prints of Westergaard's controversial cartoon, the group's director Lars Hedegaard said.

Denmark's 200,000 Muslims make up 3.5 per cent of the population and are the country's second largest religious community.

 

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