Police foil plot to kill Danish Prophet cartoonist
Islamic Community leader condemns the plot
Danish police arrested Tuesday three people suspected of plotting to kill one of the cartoonists who sparked angry protests from Muslims worldwide in 2006 by drawing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
The raid was carried out in the western Aarhus region "after lengthy surveillance," said Jakob Scharf, head of Denmark's intelligence agency PET,
in a statement.
PET said the three suspects were a Dane of Moroccan origin and two Tunisian nationals, but did not disclose their identities.
Scharf said PET chose to "intervene at a very early phase to put an end to these plans to carry out the murder." As a result, there was not enough evidence to remand the suspects in custody, PET said.
The Dane was to be released after questioning, while the Tunisians, who were deemed a threat to national security, were to be expelled.
The online edition of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published the cartoons in its print edition in September 2005, identified the cartoonist who was targeted by the plot as Kurt Westergaard.
Westergaard was one of 12 cartoonists who drew caricatures for the newspaper. His was considered the most controversial, featuring the prophet's head with a turban that looked like a bomb with a lit fuse.
Westergaard, 73, and his wife Gitte have been provided with heavy police protection for the past three months and were moved frequently to secret locations after they received death threats, the newspaper said.
The Danish Mohammed cartoons were considered offensive by many Muslims and their publication sparked violent protests in a number of Muslim countries in January and February 2006.
Westergaard said in a statement to Jyllands-Posten that he "feared for his life."
"I've only done my job and I continue to do so. But I think the consequences of this crazy reaction will continue as long as I live. It is sad but this has become my life," he said.
The news of the murder plot was vehemently condemned across Denmark's political sphere as well as the head of the Islamic Community, the biggest Muslim association in the country.
"There is freedom of expression in Denmark... and it doesn't help our cause when some people want to seek out their own form of justice," the head of the association, Kassem Ahmad, said.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "deeply concerned by these suspicions of a very serious crime, which unfortunately demonstrates that there are extremist groups in Denmark that do not recognize or respect the basic principles of society."
"In Denmark, we are free not only to think and speak as we please, but also to draw what we want. And the government will protect this freedom of expression," he stressed.