Claus Bjorn Larsen / AFP / Getty Images

Copenhagen attacker, shot dead by police, was on intel agency's 'radar'

Details emerge about 22-year-old suspect, who was born in Denmark and had record of violence and weapons charges

Danish police staged raids Sunday across the capital to determine why man opened fire at a Copenhagen café and the city’s main synagogue on Saturday, leaving two people dead.

The man was shot dead early Sunday after opening fire on police, officials said, adding that no officers were wounded. The exchange of fire took place in the multicultural inner-city neighborhood of Norrebro where police had been keeping an address under observation since the first shooting at the café, where a free-speech seminar was being held.

“We believe the same man was behind both shootings and we also believe that the perpetrator who was shot by the police action force at Norrebro station is the person behind the two attacks," police official Torben Moelgaard Jensen said.

The 22-year-old suspect was born in Denmark and had a criminal record, including violence and weapons offenses, Copenhagen police said in a statement.

Police said there was no evidence to indicate more suspects were involved in the incidents.

Officials have not released evidence of a motive, but Jens Madsen, head of the Danish intelligence agency PET, said investigators “are working on a theory that the perpetrator could have been inspired by the events in Paris” —referencing last month’s dual attacks on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store, which left 17 dead. The gunmen in those attacks claimed to be affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Qaeda.

The suspect “could also have been inspired by material sent out by the Islamic State group and others,” Madsen added, saying that the man had been on the agency’s “radar.”

The first shooting in the normally tranquil Danish capital occurred before 4 p.m. local time Saturday, when police said a gunman used an automatic weapon to shoot through the windows of the Krudttoenden Café, which was hosting an event titled “Art, Blasphemy and the Freedom of Expression” when the shots were fired.

The event was organized by Lars Vilks, 68, a Swedish artist who has faced numerous threats for caricaturing Prophet Muhammad in 2007. Police confirmed that he was the target of the attack.

Vilks was whisked away unharmed by his bodyguards but a 55-year-old man attending the event was killed and three police officers were wounded, authorities said.

Police believe the same shooter later targeted the synagogue, killing another man and wounding two police officers. Denmark's Jewish Community identified the victim at the synagogue as 37-year-old Dan Uzan, who was guarding a building during a bar mitzvah when he was shot in the head at about 1 a.m. local time on Sunday morning. 

About four hours later, the shooter was confronted by police as he returned to an address that they were keeping under surveillance.

Investigators described him as 25 to 30 years old with an athletic build and carrying a black automatic weapon. They released a blurred photograph of the suspect wearing dark clothes and a scarf covering part of his face.

Speaking to reporters, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt described the two incidents as "terrorist attacks."

"We don't know the motive for the attacks but we know that there are forces that want to harm Denmark, that want to crush our freedom of expression, our belief in liberty," she said in a nationwide address. "We are not facing a fight between Islam and the West, it is not a fight between Muslims and non-Muslims."

Inspired by Paris?

Vilks, a 68-year-old artist who has faced numerous death threats for depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007, told The Associated Press he believed he was the intended target of the first shooting.

"What other motive could there be? It's possible it was inspired by Charlie Hebdo," he said, referring to the Jan. 7 attack on the French newspaper that had angered Muslims by lampooning the Prophet Muhammad.

When Vilks is in Denmark, he receives police protection. A woman in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania got a 10-year prison term last year for a plot to kill him. In 2010, two brothers tried to burn down Vilks' house in southern Sweden and were imprisoned for attempted arson.

Francois Zimeray, the French ambassador to Denmark, was also at the café when the event came under attack, He was not injured.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the attack and said his government plans to encourage a "massive immigration" of Jews from Europe.

"Again, Jews were murdered on European soil just because they were Jews," Netanyahu said at the start of his Cabinet meeting on Sunday. "This wave of attacks is expected to continue, as well as murderous anti-Semitic attacks. Jews deserve security in every country, but we say to our Jewish brothers and sisters, Israel is your home."

Denmark’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, responded that he was “disappointed” by Netenyahu’s comments. “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” Melchior said, as quoted by Haaretz.

Meanwhile, the attack appeared to set off alarms elsewhere in Europe, which has been on edge about such threats ever since Charlie Hebdo. A carnival parade in Braunscheweig, northern Germany, was called off on Saturday just 90 minutes before it was due to start because of a "specific threat of an Islamist attack," the police said in a statement issued Sunday.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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