After months of surveillance and close cooperation with Europol and other foreign intelligence services Danish police yesterday arrested eight young men age 19 to 29, who according to the police were in the process of planning a terrorist attack.
“The key figures must be characterized as militant Islamists with international connections including direct connections with leading members of Al Qaeda,” said Jacob Scharff, head of Denmark’s domestic intelligence service (PET).
“This underlines our impression that Al Qaeda after a period of decline has recovered and is able to conduct terrorist attacks against the West including Denmark,” Scharff added.
Two of the eight will remain in custody for 27 days, while the other six were released after being questioned by the police. The men are from Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia. Six of them are Danish citizens, two hold residence permits.
The police found unstable explosives in two apartments where some of the men were living. According to news reports the police would have preferred to wait with the arrests in order to collect more evidence for the planned attack, but they were afraid that the explosives were too much of a threat to the neighbors. They would not reveal any details about possible targets.
This is the third big terror case in Denmark within the last two years. In 2005 four young men from Copenhagen were indicted for having cooperated with two men in Bosnia who conspired to commit terrorist attacks somewhere in Europe. The 17 year old Abdul Basit Abu-Lifa, received a sentence of 7 years in prison for his involvement, two others were acquitted and the fourth will be tried in January next year.
Denmark’s TV2 today reported that there had been contacts between the group arrested in 2005 and those taken into custody yesterday. The police declined to comment.
In the second case seven men of Palestinian, Iraqi and Danish background were arrested in 2006 in Odense, Denmark’s third largest city. Minister of justice, Lene Espersen said at the time that the police had prevented a serious terrorist attack. This group was home grown and did not have international connections. Four of the seven have been charged with planning a terrorist attack. One of them had identified the parliament and the newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s offices in Copenhagen as targets, but when confronted with this information insisted that it was just a joke. This trial opened yesterday while Denmark was trying to come to grasps with its predicament as a possible Al Qaeda target.
According to Peter Nesser from the Norwegian Defense Department’s research institute Denmark differs from the other Scandinavian countries because of the cartoon crisis in 2006 after violent reactions in the Muslim world to the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. In a little noted speech by Osama bin Laden in April of last year the Al Qaeda leader explained that the Zionist-Christian world fights Islam in three ways: by military means in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine; economically through control of Mideast oil and culturally by ridiculing and mocking Islam and the prophet Mohammed. Bin Laden singled out the cultural attacks as by far the worst kind of humiliation, and said that it would be insufficient to boycott products from countries ridiculing the prophet.
Also, Denmark is the only Scandinavian country with a presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, finally, Denmark has provided residence permits to several well known Islamists with very good international contacts.
Lorenzo Vidinio, author of the book Al Qaeda in Europe, told the newspaper Information that the alleged Al Qaeda connections could cover everything from internet chat to physical encounters in places like Iraq, Morocco or Amsterdam. Vidinio estimates that the bin Laden ideology may have support among a couple of hundreds of people in Denmark.
Danish police have divided potential jihad sympathizers into five groups.
1.Asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa; six of them are Danish citizens and two hold residence permits.
2.Home grown second and third generation immigrants that feel demonized or marginalized by the surrounding society.
3.Invisible young men of foreign ethnic background that on the surface seem well integrated but are attracted to radical interpretations of Islam.
4.Converts of Danish descent
5.Ideological leaders working for establishing an Islamic state.