Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

Thirteen hours that didn't change Denmark

Danes returned to normal on Monday (16 February) after a weekend of politically motivated terror attacks. But is Denmark still the same country the day after?

Prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt says Yes. She has told her people to continue to live as normal, while trying to understand what happened.

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  • Similar to the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, freedom of expression was the top target in Copenhagen, followed by an attack on a Jewish community (Photo: Liberation)

“We must make our work as we usually do. We must move as usual. We must think and speak as we will. We are who we are”, she said when laying flowers in front of the Jewish synagogue in Krystalgade in Copenhagen - one of the crime scenes of the weekend’s terror.

Similar to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, freedom of expression was the first target in Copenhagen followed by an attack on a Jewish community.

But the casualties were much fewer in Copenhagen, first of all because secret service officers and policemen were already present at the two events due to a general high level of anti-terror alert in the country.

Somehow the attack was not a complete surprise.

Denmark has for a very long time been on high alert - for 10 years, since daily newspaper Jylland-Posten published the Mohamed cartoons in 2005. The cartoons caused a global firestorm of protests and an expensive commercial boycott leading to the removal of Danish goods from supermarket shelves in many Muslim countries.

But was the police prepared and protected well enough when terror actually struck Copenhagen on Saturday 15 February?

A few more personal safety vests would have been good, Copenhagen police union chairman Michael Bergmann Møller suggested afterwards.

During the weekend a record high number of police was called into action resulting in a shortages of vests and with some policemen forced to wear incorrect sized bulletproof protection while in action.

Danish police have received nothing but praise, from top politicians to ordinary people in the streets of Copenhagen.

”We are obviously shocked ... but we insist on having an open society, with the presence and dialogue, even if it challenges the community and the police”, said the chairman of the Danish police union, Claus Oxfeldt, after the shootings.

He will be one of the speakers at the main open-air memorial event in Copenhagen on Monday evening and is paying visits during Monday to his five wounded police colleagues.

Monday evening memorials

In several larger Danish cities there are memorial events planned for Monday evening, including in Horsholm north of Copenhagen, where the local basket ball club lost a star, 37-year old Dan Uzan.

Uzan was killed while acting as doorman at a family bat mitzvah celebration in the Jewish synagogue in Krystalgade in Copenhagen, with 80 guests, including many children.

”Dan had always room for everyone. If we should try to find comfort and a little sense of meaninglessness about Dan's passing, then it must be that he prevented an even greater catastrophe,” said the club’s board in a joint message. "He will be missed".

The other victim was 55-year old film instructor Finn Norgaard, who had attended the free speech debate at the cultural centre - Krudttonden - on Saturday afternoon.

The French ambassador to Denmark, Francois Zimeray had just introduced the discussion when the shootings began.

He told Danish TV DR that he thought he was going to die. He had tweeted from inside: "Still alive in the room" and then later "TAK to Danish policemen who saved my life".

The French minister of the interior passed visited Copenhagen shortly afterward, as did Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

In Paris, president Francois Hollande took time to visit the Danish embassy and show his respect, while French daily Liberation’s front page read on Sunday: "We are Danes" – a version of the "Je suis Charlie" slogan that appeared everywhere after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris on 7 January.

French inspiration

Most Danish politicians refrained from using the weekend’s tragic events to push any specific political agendas, such as advocating more surveillance or larger budgets for the police, or to influence the upcoming referendum on fully including Denmark into EU justice and police co-operation structures.

Perhaps the attack was foreign inspired by the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, but otherwise little points to any larger organisation or international links behind the tragedy.

It appears rather to be a fatal example of failed integration and of social isolation.

The alleged attacker, who was killed on Sunday morning, has been identified as 22-year old Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein, born in Copenhagen to Palestinian parents. The Danish-Palestinian man was known to the police for gang-related crimes, but had not been abroad as a foreign fighter.

He was described by friends and teachers as a bright student and an up-and-coming athlete in Thai boxing, but also as an angry young man with convictions for violence.

Due to altered behaviour while in prison, the Danish Prison and Probation Service alerted the Danish Security and Intelligence services to the man in September.

He was then placed under observation, but not on 24-hour surveillance.

On Monday two persons were being questioned by the police in Copenhagen on suspicion of having helped the 22-year old by providing arms and shelter. But they were not charged with terrorist offences.

Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein had been released only a few weeks earlier and had no permanent address or place to stay when out of prison.

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