COPENHAGEN, (Reuters) – Several people were arrested in Denmark on Tuesday in connection with a plot to murder one of 12 cartoonists whose drawings of the Prophet Mohammad caused worldwide uproar in 2006, police said.
The Security and Intelligence Service (PET) said the arrests near Aarhus in western Denmark were made after lengthy surveillance to prevent a “terror-related killing” that was in an early stage of planning. PET did not say how many people were arrested but will release details later in the day.
According to Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that originally published the cartoons in September 2005, the suspects are accused of planning to kill 73-year-old Kurt Westergaard. He drew the cartoon that caused the most controversy, depicting Mohammad with a bomb in his turban. The paper reproduced that drawing on its Web site on Tuesday.
The cartoons drew little initial attention but were later reprinted outside Denmark, provoking outrage among Muslims, most of whom deem any depiction of Mohammad as offensive.
Three Danish embassies were attacked and at least 50 people were killed in rioting in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Several young Muslims have since been convicted in Denmark of planning bomb attacks, partly in protest at the cartoons.
Justice Minister Lene Espersen said in a statement she had been briefed by the PET but could not comment further.
The Islamic Faith Community, a religious Muslim organisation at the centre of the cartoon controversy, condemned the plot, saying all disagreements should be handled via legal channels. “It does not serve our purpose that people take the law into their own hands. On the contrary,” it said in a statement. “We want to appeal to reason in both politicians and the media to not use this miserable example to feed the flames or use it for their own profit. No one in Denmark deserves to live in fear.”
In the 2006 book “The Mohammad Crisis” written by former Reuters correspondent Per Bech Thomsen, Westergaard said he did not expect the cartoons to become a global affair. “The idea was to illustrate that terrorists get their ammunition from the fundamentalist parts of Islam. It was not aimed at Muslims and Islam in general, but against the part that inspires and uses death and destruction,” he said in the book. Westergaard, a staff cartoonist at Jyllands-Posten who has been accused of being both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian in the past, told Thomsen he felt misunderstood. “I was part of the project to strike a blow for freedom of expression and the anger over being threatened because one does one’s work drowns out the fear,” he said in the book.
Danish media said Westergaard has been under PET’s protection for several months.