Cops: Muhammad Cartoonist Fled to Panic Room to Escape Intruder With Ax

Suspect charged in Denmark with two counts of attempted murder.

January 2, 2010, 3:51 PM

LONDON, Jan. 2, 2010 — -- A Somali man with possible links to al Qaeda has been charged with attempted murder after breaking into the home of a Danish cartoonist whose drawings of the Prophet Mohammed sparked outrage among the Muslim community and triggered riots around the world.

The 28-year-old Somali man with a residence permit in Denmark, who is said to have close links with Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab and possibly al-Qaida militants in East Africa, broke into Kurt Westergaard's home in Aarhus just after 2200 local time, Danish Police told ABC News.

Armed with an ax and knife, the suspect entered the artist's home shouting threats of "blood" and "revenge," according to Westergaard, before he and his granddaughter, who was in the home on a sleepover, fled into a specifically created safe room and awaited police who arrived two minutes later.

"I took to the panic room when the attacker entered my house," Kurt Westergaard said in a statement released today. "I realised that I would not be able to match him. Then I alarmed the police."

Westergaard, 74, has been the target of several death threats since depicting a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban in 2005, igniting attacks on Danish embassies and outraging the Muslim world. He remains under police guard tonight at an undisclosed location.

In a telephone interview with ABC News, Katrina Ilsoe, a spokesperson for local police, said the Somali man, whose name cannot be released due to Danish privacy laws, was shot by officers at the scene after threatening them with an ax.

"He was shot once in the knee and once in the hand," Ilsoe said. "However, his life is not in danger."

Despite his injuries, the Somali man, accompanied by his lawyer, was wheeled into court on a stretcher at midday today to be arraigned. He was charged with two counts of attempted murder, one on Westergaard and the other on a police officer.

According to local officials, the suspect pled not guilty claiming he had no intention of harming Westergaard but that he just wanted to scare the cartoonist.

Danish Cartoon First Caused Outrage Five Years Ago

The suspect was then moved to the local Vestre Faengsel prison in Aarhhus, the second largest city in Denmark, where he will be held on remand until Jan. 27, at which time police will request to keep him in custody. A court date has not been set.

"He will be held for four weeks, the first 14 days of which will be in isolation -- where he will be kept separate from other prisoners, although he will be allowed visitors," Danish police told ABC News.

The state of Denmark does not allow for bail, so defendants are either released on their own recognizance or are remanded for trial.

Westergaard shot to fame five years ago when his cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban was featured in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The drawing was submitted by the artist as part of a self-censorship challenge; the paper has said it was not meant to offend Islam.

However, Westergaard's caricature struck a nerve among the Muslim community and sparked violent attacks on Danish embassies in the Middle East as well as heated demonstrations in front of the Danish Embassy in London.

In a statement released on the Danish Intelligence Web site early Saturday, Jakob Scharf, director-general of Denmark's PET intelligence agency, revealed that the suspect, who only recently was granted asylum, was "part of a terror-related network with connections to Denmark" and had been under surveillance for some time

Scharf said that the agency was taking the matter very seriously, adding that Friday's attack "confirms the terror threat directed towards Denmark and particularly towards the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard."

In a press release from the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, the cartoonist described the attack as "a shocking experience," adding that he was disturbed by the fact that his 5-year-old granddaughter had witnessed the attack but relieved that she was unharmed.

"It was a close call," he said, "a close call indeed. But we pulled through."

Jørn Mikkelsen, editor-in-chief of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, for which Westergaard continues to draw, expressed his gratitude to Danish police, calling the incident a "terrible experience" for Westergaard. Mikkelsen went on to say in a press statement that his paper has been dealing with threats against its staff for the past four years and that the paper will continue to follow safety measures suggested by Danish Intelligence.

Mikkelson could not be reached for comment, but Torben Møldrup, communications manager for the Danish paper, told ABC News that the cartoonist was "quite shaken" following Friday's attack but that "Mikkelsen and all the JP's journalists were relieved to know Westergaard and his family are safe."

Friday's attack follows a string of attempts on Westergaard's life. In 2008, two Tunisian nationals were arrested for plotting to kill the artist; however, officials were unable to provide enough evidence to prosecute either suspect.

More recently, in October 2009, two Chicago men were arrested on charges of terrorism and conspiring to murder Westergaard.

Moderate Muslim organizations in Denmark have condemned the attack.

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