Only two days after a Islamic terrorist gunned down two people in Copenhagen and left five police officers wounded in heinous attacks on a café hosting a free speech event and a synagogue in the Danish capital, tens of thousands gathered at torch-lit memorials around the country on Monday. The fatal attacks shocked a nation proud of its record of safety and openness. The victims were commemorated in somber tributes along the march route.
The main rally drew more than 30,000 people as the sea of humanity gathered in central Copenhagen; led by Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. In a message specifically geared to allay the growing fears of the 7000 strong Jewish community in Denmark, Ms. Thorning-Schmidt said, “Tonight I want to tell all Danish Jews: You are not alone. An attack on the Jews of Denmark is an attack on Denmark, on all of us. Our answer is clear: when others try to scare us and split us, our answer will always be a strong community.”
Speaking to reporters she said, “We have now experienced the fear that terrorism seeks to spread. The Danish democracy is strong, the Danish nation is strong, and we will not accept any attempt to threaten or intimidate our liberties and our rights.”
Reuters reported that thousands of Danes left flowers at the synagogue as a memorial tribute. They walked past the historic edifice in a quiet, solemn procession, with many also leaving both Danish and Israeli flags.
The memorial was held near the site of the first attack as people started flocking to Gunnar Nu Hansens Place at 19:00 GMT, according to an RT News report. Members of Denmark’s Jewish and Muslim communities joined the event as well as foreign politicians such as Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
“We reject unequivocally the actions of this man,” Sami Kucukakin, chairman of Muslimernes FaellesRaad, the nation’s largest Muslim group, told Bloomberg. “As a Muslim I can’t identify at all with what he did.”
Reuters reported that Jewish leaders also called for calm and tolerance as some Muslims feared a backlash. “We fight together with them (Muslims) for religious rights. We are moderates. We fight together against extremism and radicalism,” Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, chairman of the Danish Jewish Community, told a press conference.
Thousands lit candles and torches as they sang John Lennon’s iconic song “Imagine” and listened to live music as a mark of remembrance.
Reports in the Danish media indicate that the gunman, 22-year old Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, had Palestinian roots and possible ties with ISIS and other jihadi terrorist organizations. After launching Saturday’s attack on the free speech event, killing 55-year-old filmmaker, Finn Norgaard, Hussein then attacked a synagogue, killing a 37-year old Jewish security guard named Dan Uzan. In the early morning hours of Sunday, Feb 15, approximately 80 guests (mostly children without their parents) were attending a bat-mitzvah celebration at the synagogue when the gunshots rang out.
The free speech event had featured Lars Vilks, a controversial artist who had done previous caricatures of the prophet Mohammad. He was known to be among many targeted by Islamic terrorists for what they perceive as his “heretical” cartoons. Thanks to the quick thinking of bodyguards Vilkes escaped unharmed along with the French ambassador to Denmark, François Zimeray. Three police officers were injured in the shooting melee.
Hussein fled after the two attacks which took place about two miles from one another. He was later killed in a shootout with police in his neighborhood of Norrebro, a largely immigrant part of the city with a reputation for gang violence, according to a Reuters report.
Subsequently, Danish police arrested two men they believe to have aided the gunman and they are still being questioned. Little is known about the men, except that they are “young” and will not be identified due to their age. “The two men are charged with helping through advice and deeds the perpetrator in relation to the shootings at Krudttonden and in Krystalgade,” the Danish police said in a statement.
The police also indicated that El-Hussein had a history of hard core violence and was convicted of stabbing a man in the leg on a Copenhagen train in 2013. Having served time in prison for the offense, El-Hussein was released from his incarceration only weeks ago, according to published reports. He had attended the VUC Hvidovre school near Copenhagen until the end of 2013, when he was arrested for the train stabbing..
“He was ‘normal’ religious, nothing unusual, he didn’t go to mosque any more than the average Muslim,” El-Hussein’s father told the media.
Reuters reported that TV2 obtained a psychiatric assessment of El-Hussein conducted in connection with the assault case for which he was imprisoned in which he told psychologists he had a happy childhood and good relations with his parents and a younger brother. However, he did not graduate from school, was unable to get into a university and later was homeless.
Danish police said the gunman was already “on the radar” of the intelligence services and that they were looking into the possibility he had travelled to conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq.
“He may have been inspired by the events that took place in Paris a few weeks ago,” Jens Madsen, head of the Security and Intelligence Service, told reporters, according to AFP.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese news website Elnashra reported that El-Hussein’s father is a Palestinian Arab and his mother has Jordanian origins. They used to reside in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, the website said.
El-Hussein’s parents reportedly resided at the camp until they moved to Denmark in 1985. El-Hussein himself was born in 1992 and never resided at the camp nor visited it, according to Elnashra.
Citing two unnamed friends, the Politiken daily newspaper said the man was passionate in discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and had a short fuse. They expressed shock that he should launch such attacks, however, according to Reuters.
The shootings triggered reactions from across the globe. Leaders from Germany to the U.S. and the U.K. expressed their dismay and sent condolences. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Copenhagen murders show Jews aren’t safe in Europe and called for their mass emigration to Israel.
“Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe,” Netanyahu said in a statement after the attacks, repeating a similar call after the attacks by ISIS operatives in Paris last month when four Jews were among the dead.
“Extremist Islamic terrorism has struck Europe again… Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews,” Netanyahu added.
AFP reported that the Israeli prime minister said his government was to adopt a $45 million (39.5 million euro) plan “to encourage the absorption of immigrants from France, Belgium and Ukraine”.
“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent condolences to Danish counterpart Martin Lidegaard over the attacks, as was reported by AFP, telling him Israel “appreciates Denmark’s cooperation in maintaining the security of Israelis and Jews in Denmark.”
The foreign ministry quoted Lieberman as telling Lidegaard that Israel was “ready for any cooperation required on this issue”.