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Alleged attacker of Danish cartoonist goes on trial

Video by Will HILDERBRANDT

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-19

A Somali man charged with the attempted murder of Kurt Westergaard, one of 12 cartoonists whose drawings of the Prophet Mohammed, pleaded innocent as the trial started in Denmark on Wednesday.

AFP - A Somali man charged with trying to kill the cartoonist behind the most controversial of the Danish caricatures of Prophet Mohammed only admitted to breaking in with an illegal weapon when his trial opened Wednesday.
              
Mohamed Geele, 29, had been set to appear before the district court in the central Danish town of Aarhus, but the hearing was moved to the larger Appeals Court to fit in the throngs of reporters and other onlookers who braved tight security to follow the trial.
              
The Somali man, who is suspected of breaking into 75-year-old Kurt Westergaard's home on January 1 last year wielding an axe and trying to kill him, could face life in prison if found guilty on all counts: attempted terrorism, attempted murder, attacking a police officer and illegal arms possession.
              
His lawyer, Niels Strauss, meanwhile told the packed court that "my client only admits to illegal arms possession and breaking and entering."
              
Westergaard however tells another story.
              
Geele "broke down the front door with an axe and destroyed the television set and computer in the living room, screaming in Danish that he was going to kill me because I had offended the Muslim prophet," Westergaard told AFP on the eve of the trial.
              
The cartoonist, who was alone at home at the time with his five-year-old granddaughter, rushed into a bathroom that had been fortified and transformed into a panic room to "seek safety and call the police."
              
Police arrived at the scene just "three, four minutes after my call," Westergaard said.
              
The man came out wielding his axe and a knife at police, who shot him twice and wounded him before placing him under arrest.
              
According to Danish intelligence police, he is believed to be close to the Islamist movement al-Shebab, which has declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda extremist network and controls most of southern and central Somalia.
              
Westergaard has faced numerous death threats since the publication of his drawing of what appears to be the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.
              
It appeared in the Jyllands-Posten daily on September 30, 2005 along with 11 other cartoons of the Muslim prophet in what was meant to be part of a debate on self-censorship and freedom of speech.
              
The drawings sparked angry and even deadly protests across the Muslim world in early 2006 and again in early 2008, after numerous papers republished Westergaard's drawing following the unravelling of a plan to assassinate him.
              
Jyllands-Posten, too, has been the subject of a string of attack plots, the most recent one foiled at the end of December when Danish and Swedish police arrested five men they said had been planing to massacre staff at the paper's Copenhagen offices.
              
Geele's trial is set to last for nine days and the verdict is expected around the first week of February.
              
Westergaard, who is scheduled to testify Thursday, said he thought his attacker would receive "a heavy prison sentence."
              
"I do not want to excuse his actions, but I would really like to understand how he got to that point. Maybe he was manipulated," the cartoonist suggests, insisting more than five years after his drawing first appeared that it does not represent Mohammed.
              
"I made a caricature of a terrorist who evokes Islam and who abuses it, as some would say," said Westergaard, who today is closely watched over by bodyguards.
              
"I have got used to this situation. But I am not a prisoner. I can go where I want, thanks to my guardian angels," he said.

Date created : 2011-01-19

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