COPENHAGEN: Danish security agencies were under scrutiny Tuesday over the weekend shootings that sent jitters through Europe, after intelligence officials acknowledged the suspected gunman had been flagged up as being at risk of radicalisation.
The Danish intelligence agency said the prison service had raised concerns about Omar El-Hussein, a 22-year-old Dane of Palestinian origin with a history of violence, but that there was no evidence he had been planning attacks.
However, there were growing questions about whether the security services did enough to prevent the attacks on a cultural centre and a synagogue which killed two people and shocked the tranquil nation.
Coming just weeks after the jihadist attacks in Paris, in which four Jews were killed, the violence has triggered fears of a new surge in anti-Semitic violence in Europe.
Police were out in force in Copenhagen on Tuesday, with a brief security alert over a suspicious letter found near the cultural centre adding to the jitters.
Denmark was marked out for attack by radical Islamists after the Jyllands-Posten daily published cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed in 2005, triggering deadly riots in the Muslim world.
A Swedish cartoonist believed to have been the target of the attack on the cultural centre accused Danish police of having underestimated the terrorist threat.
“The attacker had good weapons, he had better weapons than the police… There was an escalation since the Charlie Hebdo attacks (in Paris) and the Danes had not caught onto that,” Lars Vilks, who has been forced into hiding, told Agence France-Presse.
Copenhagen police formally confirmed the identity of El-Hussein on Tuesday, and revealed that he had tried unsuccessfully to use several entrances to the cultural centre before peppering the windows with bullets and killing 55-year-old documentary maker Finn Norgaard, who was attending a debate on free speech.
Witnesses have said that the death toll could have been far higher if the gunman had managed to enter the building.
Some 30,000 people turned out in the Danish capital on Monday for a torchlit vigil to commemorate the victims — Norgaard, and 37-year-old Dan Uzan, who volunteered as a guard at the synagogue.
Uzan is to be buried Wednesday in Copenhagen.
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) said the prison service had reported in September that El-Hussein was at “risk of radicalisation” while serving time in jail for stabbing a man.
PET said however it had “no reason to believe that the now deceased 22-year-old offender was planning attacks”.
Two men were on Monday charged with helping him dispose of his weapon and giving him somewhere to hide.
Denmark’s main opposition party Venstre called for a probe into the intelligence service’s handling of the threat.
“Have mistakes been made on the part of the police or PET? That has to be made clear,” Venstre’s spokesman on justice issues, Karsten Lauritzen, told the Berlingske newspaper.
Local media say El-Hussein was released from jail two weeks before the attacks.
Berlingske quoted unnamed friends of the gunman as saying he came out “a changed person”.
“He had grown a beard, and he no longer talked about cars and girls, but loudly about religion, the victims in Gaza and about ending up in paradise,” it quoted them as saying.
US President Barack Obama expressed his solidarity in a phone call with Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Monday.
The two leaders “agreed on the need to work together to confront attacks on freedom of expression as well as against anti-Semitic violence,” the White House said.
The FBI is also helping Danish authorities probe the attacks, a senior US official said.
The public radio station in neighbouring Sweden, Sveriges Radio (SR), apologised Tuesday after one of its journalists asked the country’s Israeli ambassador if Jews themselves were “responsible for the progression of anti-Semitism?”
Ambassador Isaac Bachman appeared shocked, and replied: “I purely and simply reject the question.”
SR offered its “fullest apologies” and added: “The Jewish community has suffered a horrible act of terror and has all our sympathy.”
At Monday’s vigil, the prime minister told Jews they had a home in Denmark.
“Tonight I want to tell all Danish Jews: you are not alone. An attack on the Jews of Denmark is an attack on Denmark, on all of us,” Thorning-Schmidt told the crowd.
Other European nations including France and Germany also sought to assure Jews that they would be protected, rebuffing calls by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for them to emigrate to Israel.
In a sign of the nervousness in Copenhagen, police cordoned off the cultural centre Tuesday after a letter was discovered carrying an undisclosed message linked to the attacks.