Danish PM promises new measures to fight terrorism after attacks in Copenhagen


Flowers left outside the synagogue in Copenhagen, 15 February. [Kim Bach/Flickr]

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Sunday (15 February) said she would propose new measures in the fight against extremism and radicalisation, following the shootings in Copenhagen over the weekend which left three people dead, including the suspected gunman, as well as five policemen injured.

On Saturday (14 February) around 3:30 PM, a gunman,later confirmed by the police to be the 22-year old Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, opened fire outside the culture house Krudttønden in Copenhagen where artists such as the two Swedes Lars Vilks and Dan Park as well as the French Ambassador to Denmark, François Zimeray, were debating freedom of speech following the terror attacks in France a month ago. Vilks is famous for his controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including one depiction of the Prophet as a dog. 

The attack left one man, the 55-year old Danish film director Finn Nørgaard, dead, while three policemen were injured. Hours later in a separate attack, the police said El-Hussein shot dead a member of the Jewish community in Denmark, Dan Uzan, outside a synagogue, while also shooting two policemen.

The killings were possibly inspired by the terror attacks in France a month ago, which targeted the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, as well as a Jewish supermarket, leaving 17 people dead. While the gunmen in France had links to the Islamic militant group al-Qaida, El-Hussein was only known to Danish police for gang-related crime. 

Thousands of young people from Western Europe have headed to the war zones in Syria and Iraq to join extremists. While paying a visit to the synagogue on Sunday, Thorning-Schmidt said she was unaware whether El-Hussein had been a foreign fighter, but still promised to “introduce measures in the nearest future to fight these people who choose to leave their peaceful, democratic country to fight elsewhere.”  

Thorning-Schmidt did not elaborate on her comment. Shortly after the terror attacks in France, she said she was looking into how the Danish secret service can get extra resources to fight terrorism while also pushing forward a referendum on Denmark’s opt-out from EU justice and home affairs cooperation.

>> Read: Paris killings cement Danish referendum on EU justice opt-out

After 16 years as part of the criminal law enforcement agency Europol, Denmark might soon have to leave the EU’s police corporation. Denmark will also be excluded from the EU’s possible new Passenger Name Records (PNR) legislation which aims to determine travel patterns of terror suspects and draw conclusions concerning their stays in training camps or conflict areas.

While Thorning-Schmidt, as well as other pro-EU party leaders in the Danish parliament have promised a referendum on the justice opt-out by no later than April 2016, the referendum could be much closer now that previously expected.

Danish Minister for Justice Mette Frederiksen also told DR, the state broadcaster, on Sunday that new laws on terrorism could be expected after the attacks. She said at a news conference: “Unfortunately, there isn’t room for being naive neither today or in the future. There are dark powers that want to harm us and therefore we need to deliver a significant response.”  

A month ago, Frederiksen visited the French Minister for Internal Affairs Bernard Cazeneuve in Paris to show her respect for the victims of the Paris killings. Only hours after the attacks, Cazeneuve returned the favour, saying he was visiting Copenhagen to show sympathy and support. French President François Hollande was likewise the first head of state to call Thorning-Schmidt and express his condolences.  

“It means something to me and I think it means a lot for everyone in Denmark to know that the rest of the world is with us in a situation which is so difficult,” the justice minister said.

The European Commission released a statement following the attacks:

"The European Commission and the High Representative deplore the attacks in Copenhagen costing the life of at least two citizens and injuring several others. Even one life is one too many. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. Europe stands united with Denmark in upholding freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We stand against anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination. Europe will not be intimidated."

The President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, said in a statement:

"Once again Europe is shocked by what appears to be another brutal terrorist attack targeted at our fundamental values and freedoms, including the freedom of expression. On behalf of the European Union, I wish to express our sympathy and support to Denmark and the Danish people in this situation and the victims and their families and relatives. Our determination to fight all kinds of extremism and terrorism is only strengthened by such attacks. This determination was confirmed by all EU leaders at our meeting in Brussels only two days ago. We will press forward with our new agreed priorities in the fight against terrorism. We will face this threat together".

The French Élysée Palace issued a statement on Saturday:

"The President of the Republic has learned of the attack that occurred this afternoon in Copenhagen at the end of a meeting on Islam and freedom of expression attended by the Ambassador of France in Denmark François Zimeray who was not hit by gunfire. Several injuries were nevertheless reported. The President expresses to the Prime Minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, solidarity of the entire France over this event.The Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve will soon visit Copenhagen."

Cooperation in fighting terrorism intensified among EU countries after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks in the US, and even more so after the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005.

“In reaction to 9/11, the EU developed the European Arrest Warrant. But we need to do more,” said Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council which brings together the 28 EU heads of states and government.

Tusk was reacting to the January 2015 assault on the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, and the subsequent terrorist attacks in Paris, in which 17 people were killed.

Immediately after the Paris attacks, European officials pledged to reinforce cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

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