Somali held in cartoonist attack

Accused of trying to murder Dane

A Somali man charged with attacking a cartoonist was taken into court on a stretcher in Aarhus, Denmark, yesterday. A Somali man charged with attacking a cartoonist was taken into court on a stretcher in Aarhus, Denmark, yesterday. (Ernst Van Norde/ Associated Press)
By Jan M. Olsen
Associated Press / January 3, 2010

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COPENHAGEN - An ax-wielding Somali man with suspected Al Qaeda links was charged yesterday with two counts of attempted murder after breaking into the home of a Danish artist whose Prophet Mohammed cartoon outraged the Muslim world three years ago.

The suspect, who was shot twice by a police officer responding to the scene, was rolled into a Danish court on a stretcher, his face covered. He was ordered held for four weeks on preliminary charges of attempting to murder the cartoonist, as well as the police officer who shot him.

Efforts to protect the artist - 74-year-old Kurt Westergaard - were immediately stepped up, as he was moved to an undisclosed location.

The suspect, described by authorities as a 28-year-old Somali with ties to Al Qaeda, allegedly broke into the house late Friday armed with an ax and a knife. The house is in Aarhus, 125 miles northwest of Copenhagen.

Jakob Scharf, head of Denmark’s PET intelligence agency, said yesterday that the man might have attacked spontaneously.

Westergaard, who has been the target of several death threats since depicting Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban, has been under round-the-clock protection by Danish police since February 2008.

When he heard someone trying to break into his home, he pressed an alarm and fled to a specially made safe room. His 5-year-old granddaughter who was on a sleep-over, sat on a sofa and saw the suspect trying vainly to get into the shelter.

Officers arrived two minutes later and tried to arrest the assailant. He threatened the officers with the ax, and one officer then shot him in the hand and knee, Preben Nielsen of the Aarhus police said. Nielsen said the man’s wounds were serious but not life-threatening.

In 2005, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper asked Danish cartoonists to draw Mohammed as a challenge to a perceived self-censorship. Westergaard and 11 other artists did so, sparking Muslim protests. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.