Friday 23 February 2018

'They wanted another Charlie Hebdo': Gunmen on the run after killing man in 200-bullet attack on Copenhagen café hosting free speech talk

Ian Johnston, Jamie Merrill , Keumars Afifi-Sabet, Mollie Goodfellow, Loukia Gyftopoulou

Two terrorists are on the run in Denmark after they killed at least one person at a meeting about free speech attended by a Swedish cartoonist who received death threats after drawing the Prophet Mohamed.

Just over month after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, a hail of up to 200 bullets hit the Krudttoenden café in Copenhagen at about 4pm local time this afternoon as it hosted a seminar called “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression”.

At least one person, a civilian aged 40, was killed and up to three others, including a police officer, were injured.

Witnesses said the attackers used what appeared to be automatic rifles to fire through the windows of the café, but were unable to get inside.

Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark
Police presence is seen at the site of a shooting in Copenhagen REUTERS/Mathias OEgendal/Scanpix Denmark

About seven police officers providing security for the event returned fire as the cartoonist, Lars Vilks, hid in a cold store and “told bad jokes” with one of the organisers.

The French ambassador to Denmark, François Zimeray, who was also present, said on Twitter shortly afterwards that he was “still alive in the room”.

Police said the two attackers, who were reportedly dressed in black and spoke in Danish, then fled the scene in a Volkswagen Polo. The car was later found abandoned.

It comes after 17 people were killed by three Islamist terrorists in the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and at a supermarket in Paris last month. Two of the attackers then went on the run, sparking a lengthy manhunt that ended when they were cornered and shot dead.

Helle Merete Brix, one of the Copenhagen event’s organizers, told the local TV2 News that she and Mr Vilks hid in an internal room during the gunfight.

“I was in a cold room and kept hold of Lars Vilks' hand. He was very cool. We stood and told each other bad jokes. His bodyguards did a tremendous job,” she said. “It is a dramatic and unpleasant reminder of what we are up against in these times.”

She added that people in the café “actually reacted very calmly” and the meeting carried on after the shooting stopped.

“We could not get away, so we continued our discussion,” she said.

Mr Zimeray, speaking from inside the building, said: “They fired on us from the outside. It was the same intention as Charlie Hebdo [attack] except they didn't manage to get in.

"Intuitively I would say there were at least 50 gunshots, and the police here are saying 200. 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."

Niels Ivar Larsen, one of the speakers at the event, told the TV2 channel that he hid behind the bar as police and the attackers exchanged fire. "I felt surreal, like in a movie,“ he said.

There is a large playground next to the café and it was full of children and their parents at the time, who ran screaming for cover as the shots rang out.

Herve Dumuis, who works at the Østerbro football stadium just across the street from the café, said: ”I started hearing the shooting and I thought it was just in front of our door so I hid, because I was scared. Then after one minute or two I got up and looked over at the window.

“There was somebody on the pavement. And he had been shot, or her - I don't know if it was a man or woman — and three or four people were crowding around.”

The café was later evacuated as civilian and military police swamped the area.

Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said: “I condemn this attack in the strongest possible way. France stands beside the Danish authorities and people in the fight against terrorism.”

Mr Vilks, 68, who is Swedish, drew a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed that depicted him as a dog on a roundabout in 2007.

Despite the subsequent uproar and a $150,000 (about £100,000) bounty placed on his head by al-Qaeda in Iraq (the group from which Isis originated), he has remained defiant, saying “if you yield to the threats ... you have abandoned the democratic principle”.

Last year, an American woman, Colleen LaRose, who called herself “Jihad Jane”, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for terrorist-related offences after she agreed to kill Mr Vilks. In 2010, two brothers tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden and were imprisoned for attempted arson.

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Mr Vilks told the AP that even fewer organizations were inviting him to give lectures because of security concerns.

“This will create fear among people on a whole different level than we're used to,” he said. “Charlie Hebdo was a small oasis. Not many dared do what they did.”

According to larsvilks.com, the Krudttoenden café event was held to mark the anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. As well as Mr Vilks, Inna Chevchenko from the feminist protest group Femen had been due to attend.

The Lars Vilks Committee, which was set up to support the cartoonist and freedom of expression, awarded its 2014 freedom prize to Charlie Hebdo last October.

Independent.co.uk

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