A timeline of major al-Qaeda-linked plots foiled by authorities in Western countries and their allies over the year.
|Denmark PET chief Jakob Scharf said the arrested men had links to “international terror networks” [Reuters]
An Iraqi asylum seeker accused of plotting a shooting attack on the Copenhagen office of a newspaper which published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 was released on Thursday due to a lack of evidence.
Three other suspects, all residents of Sweden, have been remanded back into police custody for four weeks by a Danish court, two of which will be served in isolation, Danish security official Luke Sorensen said.
Sahbi Zalouti, a 37-year-old Swedish citizen of Tunisian descent, was also arrested in Stockholm in connection with the attack. He, too, was ordered by a Swedish court in the Stockholm suburb of Sollentunato to be held in detention on suspicion of “preparing terrorist crimes”.
The men are suspected of planning a “Mumbai-style” shooting attack on the offices that house the Copenhagen newsdesk of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, according to Danish authorities.
A spokesperson for the Danish intelligence and security service PET said that the Iraqi suspect who has been released “is still suspected of trying to conduct terrorism”.
Link to ‘global terror’
Jakob Scharf, head of the PET, characterised the men as “militant Islamists with relations to international terror networks”. He did not rule out the possibility of more arrests.
“This is a case that illustrates both that there is a terror threat against Denmark, and that we stand before a special threat to people who want to travel to Denmark with the objective of carrying out attacks,” he said.
The Iraqi suspect’s younger brother said on Thursday that his brother has been released and was now at home with his parents.
“My brother is innocent. He is being called a terrorist because he is a devout Muslim,” Farooq Muhammad Salman said.
He added that his brother, who suffers from various ailments, rarely leaves the apartment he lives with his parents.
‘Not guilty’ plea
Under a court order, none of the suspects held in Denmark can be named. Police have identified them as a 44-year-old Tunisian, a 29-year-old Lebanese-born man and a 30-year-old whose national origin is not being released.
The men face preliminary charges of attempting to carry out an act of terrorism and possession of illegal weapons. The men pleaded not guilty and refused to speak during the closed-door hearing at the Glostrup City Court in Copenhagen, Sorensen said.
In Sweden, Zalouti’s lawyer says that he “firmly denies” the charges against him. Swedish newspapers are reporting that Zalouti was arrested and briefly held in Pakistan in 2009 for travelling without proper documentation.
At the time, he told the Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet that he had lost his travel documents when his backpack was stolen, and that he was visiting Pakistan to spread information about Islam.
Officials say the men arrested in Denmark arrived from Stockholm by car during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday. Police say they have been watching the group’s movements for two months, and that they moved in to arrest the men when they left a house in a Copenhagen suburb on Wednesday.
During the operation, police said they found plastic strips of the kind used by police as handcuffs, a machine gun, a pistol and more than 100 cartridges.
“The investigation will continue in close cooperation between the police, the PET and [Swedish security police] SAPO,” Sorensen said.
‘Top priority target’
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Niels Brinch, security correspondent for the Danish broadcaster TV2, said that the timing of the attack may have been chosen to coincide with repair work at the building.
“These days there are some repairs going on at Jyllands-Posten‘s head office, which means the offices were easier accessible [sic] than they usually are, and there is a suspicion or a fear you might say that someone from the inside has told these gentlemen that … but that is at the moment being investigated,” he said.
He added that Denmark has been a “top priority target for al Qaeda and like-minded terrorists” since the printing of the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.