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Denmark shaken as two attacks leave two dead

Bullet holes were visible in the window and door of a Copenhagen cafe. One man died and several people were reported wounded.
Bullet holes were visible in the window and door of a Copenhagen cafe. One man died and several people were reported wounded.EPA

LONDON — Two attacks shook Copenhagen Saturday, with a gunman spraying bullets into a cafe where a cartoonist who had caricatured the prophet Mohammad was speaking, followed hours later by a shooting near the city’s main synagogue.

One man was killed in the cafe attack and three police officers were wounded; a man was shot in the head in the second attack and later died, and two police officers were wounded, news services reported. It was not clear if the two attacks were linked.

Police swarmed into the city center, evacuating a large subway and train station, setting up checkpoints and warning residents to remain indoors while those responsible remained at large.

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The latest attacks come as Europe is increasingly on edge over the January attacks on a French satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris, one of the worst terrorist attacks in France. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment is rising in Europe, and although there was no indication who was responsible for the shootings in Copenhagen, Twitter was ablaze with anti-Muslim indictments.

Fears are also rising about European Muslims who have become radicalized. Denmark, like many European countries, has seen young Danes going to Iraq and Syria to fight with jihadists. At least 100 Danes have done so.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt had earlier called the shooting at the Krudttoenden cafe a terrorist attack and said that the nation was on high alert.

“We feel certain now that it was a politically motivated attack, and thereby it was a terrorist attack,” Thorning-Schmidt said.

The artist who may have been the target at the cafe shooting, Lars Vilks, 68, was unharmed, and the police said Saturday evening that there had been only one gunman in that attack, after initially reporting there were two. The gunman, wearing a maroon balaclava over his head, escaped in a dark Volkswagen Polo, which was later found empty.

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The French ambassador to Denmark, who had been at the event, wrote on Twitter that he was unharmed.

Vilks has had regular protection from the Swedish police after death threats and at least one attempt on his life. On Saturday, the Danish police were guarding the cafe event, “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression,” and the gunman, who fired at least 30 rounds into the windows and doors, could not force his way in.

Like Vilks, the editor of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo — Stéphane Charbonnier, who was killed in the Paris attack — had been on a list of assassination targets issued by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and other radical Muslim groups. Others, like novelist Salman Rushdie, are still considered targets. The list also includes three staff members of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which printed cartoons of Muhammad in 2005: Kurt Westergaard, Carsten Juste and Flemming Rose.

Helle Merete Brix, one of the organizers of the event, said she believed Vilks had been the intended target. Amid the shooting, she said, she moved with Vilks into a cold storage room, as some French survivors did during the siege of a kosher market in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

“I was in a cold room and kept hold of Lars Vilks’ hand,” she told Denmark’s TV2. “He was very cool. We stood and told each other bad jokes.”

Vilks also said he believed he was the target.

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“What other motive could there be?” he told The Associated Press.

Brix said Vilks’ bodyguards had done “a tremendous job” and added, “It is a dramatic and unpleasant reminder of what we are up against in these times.”

Remarkably, she said, the seminar continued after the shooting.

Niels Ivar Larsen, one of the speakers at the event, said: “I heard someone firing with an automatic weapon and someone shouting. Police returned the fire, and I hid behind the bar. I felt surreal, like in a movie.”

The French ambassador, François Zimeray, told Agence France-Presse that he believed the gunman, who fired from outside the cafe, had “the same intention as Charlie Hebdo, except they didn’t manage to get in.”

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, called the shooting a terrorist attack, and President François Hollande said he would send the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, to consult with the Danes. The Danish police said they were investigating it as a possible act of terrorism.

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called the attack at the cafe “another brutal terrorist attack targeted at our fundamental values and freedoms, including the freedom of expression.”

Vilks, who portrayed Muhammad as a dog on a traffic circle in a 2007 cartoon in a Swedish newspaper, said that he was under constant threat and that the Swedish police had increased their protection of him after the Charlie Hebdo killings. He told The Wall Street Journal last month that he had to coordinate his outings with the police because he “can’t go anywhere without a police escort.”

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He said artists and satirists should not tread more carefully in their criticism of Islam than they would in criticizing any other religion.

“Almost the entire Muslim world is subject to a theological rule that has a strange outcome when it comes to human rights,” he said. “You can’t ignore that. Then you’re talking tactics, how should one go about to change that. Some say you should be very careful, but that’s just postponing the problem. Sooner or later, you have to explain what you’re criticizing.”

Vilks is also known as a conceptual sculptor and something of a provocateur, building sculptures in protected nature reserves in Sweden. He originally drew his Muhammad cartoons for a local art exhibition, which withdrew them, fearing protests.

Other Swedish galleries also declined to show the drawings, but in August 2007, a regional newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda, published one of them to illustrate an editorial on self-censorship and freedom of religion. Protests and death threats ensued.

In 2010, the police discovered plots against Vilks’ life, and he was assaulted while giving a lecture on free speech at Uppsala University in Sweden. Last year, a Pennsylvania woman was sentenced to a 10-year prison term for a plot to kill him, and in 2010, two brothers were jailed after trying to burn down his house.