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One dead, three cops hurt in shooting at Copenhagen Islam debate

Danish media say several shots have been fired at a cafe in Copenhagen where a meeting about freedom of speech was being held, organized by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has faced numerous threats for caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad in 2007.

world Updated: Feb 15, 2015 03:03 IST
Copenhagen,free speech event,freedom of expression

Unidentified gunmen killed at least one person and wounded three police officers after opening fire Saturday on a cultural centre in Copenhagen hosting a debate on Islam and free speech.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks -- the author of controversial Prophet Mohammad cartoons that sparked worldwide protests in 2007 -- was among those at the debate targeted by two gunmen who then fled the scene.

Danish Prime Minister Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt described the assault as "a terrorist attack" as Danish televion showed the windows of the Krudttonden cultural centre pock marked by multiple bullet holes.

French ambassador to Denmark Francois Zimeray, who had been present at the debate but was not hurt, told AFP the shooting was an attempt to replicate the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.

"They shot from the outside (and) had the same intention as Charlie Hebdo, only they didn't manage to get in," he said by telephone from the venue.

"Intuitively I would say there were at least 50 gunshots, and the police here are saying 200," he told AFP.

"Bullets went through the doors and everyone threw themselves to the floor."

A statement by Danish police said "an unidentified man died after having been hit by bullets" in the strike, and three officers were wounded in the shooting.

Police also said the Volkswagen Polo the two suspected assailants fled the scene in was found abandoned around two hours after the attack.

Specialists commenting on the attack in initial media reports said it was likely automatic rifles were used in the strike in order to fire as many rounds in a short period of time.

The assault comes at a time of heightened security and rising fears of Islamist attacks, following January 7 and 9 incidents in Paris that left 17 people dead.

A series of anti-terror sweeps have been carried out across Europe since mid-January, resulting in the arrests of dozens of suspected jihadist and seizures of large stocks of weapons and explosives.

'Bullets went through doors'

Those included January 17 raids in Belgium that thwarted what police called imminent "terrorist attacks to kill police officers on public roads and in police stations."

Two suspects were killed fighting Belgian police in those sweeps.

Charlie Hebdo raised the ire of Islamist extremists by republishing cartoons by Vilks and other caricatures, and periodically satirising Islam on its own in later editions.

Vilks has been under police protection since his earlier controversial cartoons were published.

Concern of renewed attacks targeting symbols of press liberties and freedom of expression have been growing since the Charlie Hebdo strike, Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire told AFP after the Copenhagen assault.

"It's something that we feared after Charlie Hebdo. We see that ultra-radical groups are leading a war against freedom of expression, against the freedom to be irreverent about religion and against the simple freedom to debate them," Deloire said.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius condemned what he called a "terrorist attack targeting a public meeting", saying in a statement that France "remains by the side of the Danish authorities and people in the fight against terrorism."

The French president's office said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was headed to the scene.

The cafe in northern Copenhagen, known for its jazz concerts, was hosting an event titled 'Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression' when the shots were fired. (AFP Photo)

First Published: Feb 14, 2015 21:49 IST