COPENHAGEN: Three terror suspects appeared in a Danish court Thursday in relation to a foiled "Mumbai-style" plot to massacre staff at a newspaper that published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
The trio was arrested Wednesday along with two other men for hatching what Danish officials called a plan to "kill as many people as possible" in an imminent assault on the Copenhagen offices of the Jyllands-Posten daily.
Danish intelligence agency PET said they were a 44-year-old Tunisian, a 29-year-old Swede born in Lebanon, and a 30-year-old Swede.
All resided in Sweden and came to the Copenhagen suburbs where they were arrested overnight to Wednesday in a rental car.
They face charges of "attempted terrorism" and weapon possession and were expected to be remanded in custody. According to Denmark’s TV2, the three have pleaded not guilty.
A fourth man arrested Wednesday in Sweden in connection with the same attack plot was set to appear in court in the Stockholm suburb of Sollentuna at 3:00 pm (1400 GMT).
Official documents show the court would then decide if the suspect — 37-year-old Swedish citizen Sahbi Zalouti, who according to PET is of Tunisian origin — would be remanded in custody for "preparation of terrorist crimes."
Media reported a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker arrested Wednesday in his apartment outside Copenhagen would be released, although the terrorism charges against him remained.
Denmark’s PET intelligence service said Wednesday officers had seized "plastic strips that could have been used as handcuffs, a sub-machine gun with silencer as well as ammunition," in the operation.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen on Wednesday praised intelligence services for foiling the plot.
"There are extremists out there who want to attack our open society," he said.
Denmark would not bargain with extremists to make life easier, he said, adding: "This has its price."
The head of PET Jackob Scharf told reporters Wednesday: "It is our sense based on intelligence that this is a insurgent Islamic group with links to international terrorist networks."
He added the plan, to be carried out "within the next few days", "was to try to gain access to the location of Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen and to try to carry out a Mumbai-style attack".
The 2008 attacks in Mumbai saw 10 heavily armed gunmen trigger a standoff that left 166 people dead.
Wednesday’s arrests took place after an extended joint investigation with Saepo, PET said.
Saepo head Anders Danielsson said the men based in Sweden had been under surveillance and his officers had known there were weapons in the car used for the trip to Copenhagen.
Later Wednesday, two Danish newspapers reported that Copenhagen police had evacuated a building in the Greve suburb where the 26-year-old lived, sealing it off and sending in a bomb-disposal robot.
Officers had found a suspicious object or explosives in the suspect’s apartment, Politiken and Jyllands Posten reported on their websites. Local police refused to confirm the reports to AFP.
In 2005, Jyllands-Posten published a dozen cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that triggered violent and sometimes deadly protests around the world.
Saepo spokeswoman Katarina Sevcik said they had for the moment found no connection between the suspects arrested Wednesday and the December 11 bombing in which an Islamist insurgent blew himself up in Sweden’s first suicide attack.
In a message sent before his death, the bomber said he wanted to punish Swedes for their "support of the pig Lars Vilks", a Swedish cartoonist who drew an image of Mohammed with the body of a dog in another publication.
The PET warned last month that there were "renewed indications that terrorist groups abroad are looking to send terrorists to Denmark to commit terrorist attacks".