You are here

Police kill gunman after Copenhagen attacks

33946949 - 15_02_2015 - DENMARK-SHOOTING_.jpg
Investigative personnel work at the scene of a cafe shooting in Oesterbro, in Copenhagen, Feb 15, 2015. Danish police shot and killed the man in Copenhagen on Sunday after two deadly attacks at an event promoting freedom of speech and on a synagogue.

[COPENHAGEN] Danish police have shot and killed a gunman suspected of murdering two people in what the government is treating as terrorist attacks that left the nation in shock.

Police shot the man early this morning after he opened fire on officers who had been conducting a surveillance operation on a central Copenhagen location. The man was the sole suspect in two shootings that left one person dead at a Copenhagen cafe where participants were debating free speech, and another victim at a synagogue, police inspector Joergen Skov told reporters.

"Two innocent people have lost their lives in a cynical act of terror against Denmark," Prime Minister Helle Thorning- Schmidt said in a statement on her website. "Nobody must get away with attacking the open, free and democratic Danish society."

The attacks started on Saturday afternoon, when police reinforcements were called to a cafe in Copenhagen after gun shots were heard. The gathering to debate the role of art and free speech had been attended by Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, known for his caricature of Muhammad. Mr Vilks was escorted to safety. Police later described the deceased as a 55-year-old man who had probably been at the cafe to listen to the debate.

In a second attack just after midnight, a young Jewish man was shot in the head and killed outside a synagogue. The man was a member of the congregation and worked as a guard.

Police used video surveillance to identify a taxi that the suspect took after one of the shootings, Mr Skov said. The taxi driver led them to an address near a Copenhagen train station. The suspect then started shooting after police tried to make contact and was killed when they fired back.

Police didn't give more details of the man, except to say that he was armed with an automatic weapon.

The attacks come five weeks after the massacre at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris by radical Islamists. Those murders fueled debate on how Europe is dealing with challenges posed by immigration. As in France, Denmark's anti- immigration group - the Danish People's Party - has surged in the polls.

The violence "fills me with deep anger," Thorning-Schmidt said on her website, urging Danes to gird for "tough days" ahead. "In Denmark, we will never cave in to violence," she said. France immediately sent its condolences after the first attack on Saturday.

Denmark has "all the solidarity of France in this ordeal," according to an e-mailed statement from President Francois Hollande's office. "Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will travel to Copenhagen as soon as possible." Among the guests debating the role of art, blasphemy and free speech at the Copenhagen event was the French ambassador to Denmark, Francois Zimeray. He tweeted that he was "still alive in the room" after the first shooting took place, and later thanked Danish police for saving his life.

The US condemned the attack as "deplorable." "We have been in close contact with our Danish counterparts and stand ready to lend any assistance necessary to the investigation," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an e-mailed statement.

Denmark is home to the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which in 2005 published a series of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that triggered violent protests across much of the Muslim world. Mr Vilks's drawing depicting Muhammad with the body of a dog left Swedish media divided, with some refusing to publish the image amid security concerns.

Those attending the free speech debate "experienced shock and fear - and tragedy," Vilks later wrote in a blog. As to the matter of free speech, "where do we stand now with that question?" he wrote.

The 68-year-old is kept under police protection. In January last year, Colleen LaRose, an American who used the alias "Jihad Jane," was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her role in a plot to murder the Swedish artist. LaRose had pleaded guilty in Feb 2011 to conspiring to provide support to terrorists and commit murder in a foreign country.

Denmark's police intelligence unit said Saturday's attack shows the threat of a terrorist act taking place in the country is "serious."