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Deadly attack targets Copenhagen blasphemy debate

Danish police have released pictures of a suspect caught by security cameras.
Danish police have released pictures of a suspect caught by security cameras. Danish Police

Shots were fired Saturday at a cafe in Copenhagen that was hosting a freedom of speech event organized by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has faced numerous threats for caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed in 2007.

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"Eyewitnesses are describing a scene of utter carnage when one, possibly two perpetrators came up to the café, simply stood and shot through the door," said FRANCE 24's reporter at the scene Trine Villemann. "There was a heavy police presence inside the café because it was a controversial meeting and the police returned fire immediately."

Danish police have reported that three of their officers suffered non-life threatening injuries and a 40-year-old civilian man who was attending the debate was killed.

Helle Merete Brix, one of the organizers of the event, told the Associated Press that Vilks was present at the event but not injured. "I saw a masked man running past,'' she said. "A couple of police officers were injured.''

"I clearly consider this as an attack on Lars Vilks,'' she added, saying she was ushered away with Vilks by one of the Danish police guards that he gets whenever he is in Denmark.

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. Niels Ivar Larsen, one of the speakers at the event, told TV2 that at least two people were wounded.

Villemann said the café was small and 70 to 100 people were inside. "It was not a highly publicised event and not many people knew it was going to happen," she added.

François Zimeray, the French ambassador to Denmark, was at the conference and tweeted that he was "still alive.''

"Same intention as Charlie Hebdo" attack

"They fired on us from the outside. It was the same intention as (the January 7 attack on) Charlie Hebdo except they didn't manage to get in," Zimeray told AFP by telephone.

"Bullets went through the doors and everyone threw themselves to the floor. We managed to flee the room, and now we're staying inside because it's still dangerous. The attackers haven't been caught and they could very well still be in the neighbourhood."

FRANCE 24's Villemann said that French ambassador had just finished speaking when the gunmen opened fire.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Denmark's prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, visited the crime scene on Saturday evening. "We feel certain now that it was a politically motivated attack, and thereby it was a terrorist attack," she told reporters. "We are on high alert all over the country."

After initial calls for information on two suspects, Danish police said they were looking for only one man and released a photo of him wearing dark clothes and a brown scarf across his face.

A police statement described the suspect as "male, 25-30 years of age, height approximately 185 cm, athletic build, Arabic appearance (but with lighter than normal skin), and black straight hair". A vehicle believed to be the getaway car was found abandoned shortly after the attack.

Vilks, a 68-year-old Swedish artist, has faced several attempted attacks and death threats after he depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007.

He told The Associated Press he believed he was the intended target of the shooting. "What other motive could there be? It's possible it was inspired by Charlie Hebdo,'' he told AP.

After Islamic militants attacked the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris last month, killing 12 people, Vilks had told the news agency that even fewer organizations were inviting him to give lectures over increased security concerns.

FRANCE 24's international affairs editor Douglas Herbert remarked that Danish people had been expecting attacks since a local newspaper published caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in 2005, and polls had shown that feeling increased since the Paris attacks.

"Where next?" is a common feeling across Europe, Herbert added.

French President François Hollande expressed "France's solidarity" with Denmark in a statement, adding that the French interior minister would travel to Copenhagen as soon as possible.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius "firmly condemned" the shooting, describing it as a "terrorist attack".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, Reuters)

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