Danish police arrest 3 suspects in plot to kill cartoonist who drew Prophet Muhammad
AP Photo JMC101, COP802
By JAN M. OLSEN
Associated Press Writer
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- Danish authorities on Tuesday arrested three people suspected of plotting a cartoonist's assassination for his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban that enraged Muslims two years ago.
Three of Denmark's largest newspapers said they would reprint the cartoon on Wednesday to show they would not be intimidated by fanatics. It was one of 12 Muhammad cartoons published in 2005 and then again in 2006 that led to protests in Muslim countries.
Investigators said they foiled the plot in its early stages in a pre-dawn raid in the western Denmark city of Aarhus. The police intelligence agency, PET, said two Tunisians and a Danish citizen of Moroccan origin were arrested.
"The case shows that, unfortunately, there are in Denmark groups of extremists that do not accept and respect the basic principles on which the Danish democracy has been built," Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Tuesday's arrests were meant "to prevent a terror-related assassination of one of the cartoonists behind the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad," PET chief Jakob Scharf said. Investigators believe the plot had not advanced far enough to try the suspects.
Scharf said the 40-year-old Danish suspect faced a preliminary charge of violating a Danish terror law, but will likely be released after questioning. The two Tunisians will be expelled from Denmark, he said.
He did not name the intended target, but Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten said it was the paper's cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard.
Westergaard, 73, drew one of the 12 Muhammad caricatures that were first published by the paper on Sept. 30, 2005, and then reprinted by other Western media in early 2006.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet for fear it could lead to idolatry.
The cartoonist and his wife, Gitte, 66, have been living under police protection for more than three months because of "concrete murder plans" against him, Jyllands-Posten reported.
Westergaard told Denmark's TV2 News network that the couple had been forced to move between several locations, both in Denmark and abroad. He praised the intelligence service for their protection.
"They have certainly saved my life, I am convinced of that," he said.
Jyllands-Posten and two other Danish papers, Politiken and Berlingske Tidende, said they would reprint Westergaard's cartoon in Wednesday's editions. Jyllands-Posten posted it on the front page of its Web site on Tuesday.
"That shows that terror is not only despicable, but also at the end powerless," Politiken's chief editor, Toeger Seidenfaden, said.
The alleged murder plot was condemned by politicians and Muslim groups in the Scandinavian country.
"Actions of this kind have no place in Islam as it was understood, lived and told by the Prophet Muhammad," the moderate Muslim Council of Denmark said in a statement.
Tuesday's arrests startled Danes, who had come to believe that the cartoon crisis was a closed chapter.
"This is a story that won't die. It's disgusting that people are exposed to death threats simply because they are doing their jobs," said Fred Jacobsen, vice president of the Danish Journalists Union.
He said the union had urged the cartoonists to "keep a low profile" after Tuesday's arrests.
Two of the other cartoonists told The Associated Press that police had advised them not to talk to the media.
In the uproar that followed the publishing of the cartoons, Danes watched in disbelief as angry mobs burned the Danish flag and attacked the country's embassies in Muslim countries including Syria, Iran and Lebanon. Danish products were boycotted in several Muslim countries.
Jyllands-Posten initially refused to apologize for the cartoons, which it said it published in reaction to perceived self-censorship among artists dealing with Islamic issues, but later said it regretted that the cartoons had offended Muslims.
In Germany, two men were accused of planting bombs aboard a pair of German commuter trains in 2006 that failed to explode. Prosecutors say they planned the attacks as revenge after some German newspapers reprinted the Muhammad caricatures.