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Copenhagen Reels after Deadly Shootings Surrounding Free Speech Event

  • Robin Herr Religion News Service
  • Updated Feb 17, 2015
Copenhagen Reels after Deadly Shootings Surrounding Free Speech Event

Denmark continued to reel over its first double terrorist attack, trying to make sense of killings in a country that rarely sees deadly violence and where the queen and officials walk around with light security.

“We are a nation that is completely unused to such drama,” said Kirsten Stubbe-Teglbjaerg, a resident of the Danish capital.

A gunman fired multiple shots Saturday (Feb. 14) through the window of a cafe in a tony part of Copenhagen during a free speech debate, killing one man.

By Saturday evening, the gunman stood on a cafe-filled street parallel to the city’s famous mile-long pedestrian shopping street, killing a male guard at a synagogue. Hours later, a massive manhunt resulted in a shootout near a downtown subway station and the gunman’s death.

Five police officers were also wounded in the attacks.

Police haven’t released the identity of the attacker but said at a news conference Sunday that the 22-year-old suspect was born in Denmark, was involved in gang criminal activity and had an interest in militant Islam. The suspect has not traveled abroad to the Middle East, police said. Police also said they suspect he was attempting to copycat last month’s Paris shootings on the Charlie Hebdo office and a kosher grocery store.

Police originally thought the gunman was working alone, but officers raided a local Internet cafe, close to where the shootout occurred. Two men were charged with providing and disposing of the weapon used by the shooter and with helping him flee after the attacks.

The two people killed were Finn Noergaard, 55, a filmmaker shot in the cafe, and Dan Uzan, 37, a volunteer security guard at the synagogue.

“It feels surrealistic that this happened in Denmark, just around the corner from where I live,” said Uffe Alici Pedersen of Copenhagen, who is Muslim. “I think everyone is thinking of the dead and wounded and their families with the deepest compassion and respect.”

Denmark, which rescued its Jewish population during World War II by sending them to neutral Sweden, expressed solidarity with the murdered guard. Three Muslim organizations quickly condemned the killings.

Prime Minister Helle-Thorning-Schmidt stood in front of the synagogue Sunday and said, “In Denmark, everyone is free to practice their religion.” Queen Margrethe II also sent a message of solidarity: “My thoughts are with the slain filmmaker and the young guard from the Jewish community.”

The cafe attack took place during a debate on free speech and blasphemy featuring Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who has received death threats since he drew a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in 2007, two years after a Danish newspaper drew the prophet and set off riots in the Muslim world, some deadly. Police said the gunman had wanted to shoot Vilks.

Minister of Justice Mette Frederiksen said Sunday: “We should all be able to practice freedom of speech here.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki offered Washington’s help to Danish authorities and said Americans “stand united with the people of Denmark and all others who defend the universal right of freedom of speech and stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms.”

After the shooting near the synagogue and rising anti-Semitism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for the “massive immigration” of European Jews to Israel, saying it’s the only place where Jews can truly feel safe, the Associated Press reported. His comments triggered an angry response from Copenhagen’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior.

“People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism,” Melchior told the AP. “If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island.”

(Robin Herr writes for USA Today)

Courtesy: Religion News Service

Publication date: February 17, 2015