When Another European Capital Narrowly Avoided a Charlie Hebdo-Like Massacre

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Last week’s massacre at the Paris office of a satirical French magazine has shocked the world into an outpouring of support for the victims today, but if Islamic extremists had their way, the horror of last Wednesday could have played out nearly the same way more than four years ago at another European capital.

That’s when, in December 2010, authorities arrested several men who prosecutors said were just hours away from storming the offices of a daily newspaper in Copenhagen potentially with a submachine gun, pistol, silencer and plastic wrist restraints. Danish intelligence said at the time that the aim of the terror cell was to “kill as many people as possible,” apparently as revenge on the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, for publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed years before.

“We have a completely concrete target… They had enough ammunition to at least shoot 122 people,” lead prosecutor Gyrithe Ulrich said during sentencing, according to The New York Times.

PHOTO: A general view shows Hundreds of thousands of people gathering on the Place de la Republique to attend the solidarity march (Rassemblement Republicain) in the streets of Paris, Jan. 11, 2015. Youssef Boudlal/Reuters
A general view shows Hundreds of thousands of people gathering on the Place de la Republique to attend the solidarity march (Rassemblement Republicain) in the streets of Paris, Jan. 11, 2015.

While five men were arrested initially, four were convicted in June 2012 and sentenced to more than a decade in prison on charges relating to the foiled plot, according to local reports. During the trial, prosecutors alleged that the men had been in contact with militants in Pakistan where one of the convicted spent two years before his arrest.

Like Jyllands-Posten, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Mohammed several times, despite angry rebukes from the Muslim community and threats from extremist groups.

Authorities identified French brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi as the gunmen who killed 12 people, including several Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and two police officers, Wednesday in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Two days later, during a standoff with police just miles away, one of the brothers reportedly spoke to a French television station and said the attack had been carried out on behalf of al Qaeda’s Yemen-based branch, AQAP. U.S. officials said that at least one of the shooters, Said, had traveled to Yemen in recent years for terror training.

Morten Storm, a former jihadi who was close to al Qaeda before flipping to spy on the terror organization for Danish, British and American intelligence, said that AQAP essentially issued a “declaration of war” on Charlie Hebdo because of the cartoons and that Anwar al-Awlaki, a high-profile American member of AQAP, was for years interested in “Western brothers” carrying out similar attacks.

“Al-Awlaki asked me for years to supply AQAP with Europeans, ‘western brothers,’ meaning Western Europeans, and some of them should have clean passports so they could travel back and forth -- to receive training and go back to the West and carry out these atrocities,” Storm told ABC News last week.

Al-Awlaki was killed in an American drone strike in September 2011.

A day after the Charlie Hebdo attack, Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said his country “expresses its full solidarity with France during this difficult time.”