Danish and Swedish police said yesterday that they had foiled a potentially devastating terrorist attack after arresting five suspected Islamic militants who wanted to "kill as many people as possible" in the offices of a Copenhagen newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Denmark's intelligence service said it arrested four men in two raids in the suburbs of the capital and seized an automatic weapon, a silencer and live ammunition. Swedish police said they arrested the fifth suspect, a 37-year-old Swedish citizen of Tunisian origin who was living in Stockholm.
Lars Barfoed, the Danish Justice Minister, described the plot as "outrageous" and "terrifying" and said it was the "most serious attempt at terror" ever witnessed in Denmark.
Jakob Scharf, the head of Denmark's intelligence service, said the militants had apparently planned to storm the offices of Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published the controversial Muhammad cartoons in 2005. Once inside, they planned to fire automatic weapons at random, he said.
"They wanted to kill as many of the people present as possible," Scharf said, adding that "an imminent terror attack" had been foiled. He described the suspects as "militant Islamic activists with relations to international terror networks".
He said more arrests were possible.
The intelligence services arrested a 44-year-old Tunisian, a 29-year-old Lebanese-born man and a 30-year-old who were living in Sweden and had entered Denmark on Wednesday. The fourth person detained was a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum-seeker living in Copenhagen.
Swedish police did not immediately release details about the fifth suspect. They said the planned attack in Copenhagen did not appear to be linked to a suicide bomb in Stockholm early this month when an Iraqi-born Muslim blew himself up in a crowded shopping street after detonating a car bomb.
The Danish intelligence service said the four arrested faced preliminary charges of attempting to carry out an act of terrorism. Their case would be brought before judges during a custody hearing today.
Zubair Butt Hussain, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Denmark, called the planned attack "extremely worrying" and said his organisation condemned any acts of terrorism outright "regardless of the motives and motivations" behind them.
There have been at least four plots to attack Jyllands-Posten and Kurt Westergaard, the artist who drew the most contentious of 12 cartoons.
FALLOUT FROM 12 IMAGES
September 2005: Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The most infamous image depicted him with a bomb resting in a turban he was wearing, sparking outrage across the Muslim world.
November 2005: Die Welt, the German newspaper, published one of the cartoons. Several months later, Der Tagesspiegel, another German paper, also published a cartoon showing a line of suicide bombers queuing outside heaven. The image depicted the Prophet Muhammad telling them: "Stop, stop, we're out of virgins."
February 2006: At least 127 people were killed in Nigeria in protest clashes between Christian and Muslim mobs.
April 2006: Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, told Al Jazeera that "people who defamed Muhammad were defaming their own prophet, because Muhammad is the prophet of the people in Scandinavia, in Europe, America, Asia and Africa ... They should agree to become Islamic in the course of time, or else declare war on the Muslims."