Thanks to our friends at Editor & Publisher for permission to post this story.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark Danish police said Tuesday they have arrested several people suspected of plotting to kill one of the 12 cartoonists behind the Prophet Muhammad drawings that sparked a deadly uproar in the Muslim world two years ago.
The arrests were made in pre-dawn raids in Aarhus, western Denmark, “to prevent a terror-related murder,” the police intelligence agency said. It did not say how many people were arrested nor did it mention which cartoonist was targeted.
However, according to Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the drawings on Sept. 30, 2005, the suspects were planning to kill its cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. It said those arrested included both Danish and foreign citizens.
“There were very concrete murder plans against Kurt Westergaard,” said Carsten Juste, the paper’s editor-in-chief.
The cartoons were later reprinted by a range of Western publications, and they sparked deadly protests in parts of the Muslim world.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Westergaard, 73, and his wife Gitte, 66, had been living under police protection because of the murder plans, Jyllands-Posten reported.
“Of course I fear for my life when the police intelligence service say that some people have concrete plans to kill me. But I have turned fear into anger and resentment,” Westergaard said in a statement published on Jyllands-Posten’s Web site.
PET, the police intelligence service, called the action “preventive,” saying it decided to strike “at an early phase to stop the planning and the carrying out of the murder.”
In the uproar that followed the publishing of the cartoons, Danes watched in disbelief as angry mobs burned the Danish flag and attacked the country’s embassies in Muslim countries including Syria, Iran and Lebanon.
Jyllands-Posten was evacuated several times because of threats and posted security guards at its office outside Aarhus and in Copenhagen.
The paper initially refused to apologize for the cartoons, which it said were published in reaction to a perceived self-censorship among artists dealing with Islamic issues, but later said it regretted that the cartoons had offended Muslims.
The Danish government also expressed regrets to Muslims, but noted that it could not interfere with the freedom of the press.
Kasem Ahmad, a spokesman for the Copenhagen-based Islamic Faith Community, a network of Muslim groups that spearheaded protests against the cartoons in Denmark, said he hoped Tuesday’s arrests would not rekindle the uproar.
“We urge Muslims to take it calmly,” he told the TV2 News network.
The rage over the caricatures resonated beyond Denmark. In Germany, two men were accused of planting bombs aboard a pair of German commuter trains in 2006 that failed to explode.
One of the men, Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib, a Lebanese citizen, is on trial in Duesseldorf. The second man, Jihad Hamad, was convicted in December in Lebanon and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
El-Hajdib told the court last week that Hamad planned the attacks as revenge after some German newspapers reprinted the Muhammad caricatures.
Hamad, however, testified at his trial in Lebanon that el-Hajdib was the initiator of the failed plot. He said el-Hajdib brainwashed him and exposed him to extremist videos and propaganda.