COPENHAGEN: At least one person was killed and six injured in shootings in the Danish capital Saturday night, with one attack targeting a cultural centre that was hosting a debate on Islam and free speech.
The second incident, close to Copenhagen’s main synagogue in the city centre, saw one person shot in the head and two policemen also injured, police said in a statement early Sunday.
A 40-year-old man was killed by gunmen at the Krudttonden cultural centre and three police officers wounded.
It was not confirmed if the two incidents, which come just weeks after a series of bloody Islamist attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead, were related.
Swedish artist Lars Vilks — the author of controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons that sparked worldwide protests in 2007 — was among those at the debate.
Police said a manhunt was underway for the gunman who targeted the talk, who had fled the scene after exchanging fire with officers.
They have released a photo of the suspect, a man in a dark anorak and a maroon hat carrying a black bag.
They described him as 25-30 years old, around 185cm (six feet) tall, with an athletic build.
Swedish security services told Agence France-Presse they were on alert for any attempt by the suspect to cross the bridge from Denmark to Sweden.
Danish Prime Minister Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt described the assault as “a terrorist attack”, while the United States branded it “deplorable”.
The windows of the cultural centre were pock-marked by multiple bullet holes.
French ambassador to Denmark Francois Zimeray, who had been present at the debate but was not hurt, told AFP the shooting was an attempt to replicate the January 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris which killed 12 people.
“They shot from the outside (and) had the same intention as Charlie Hebdo, only they didn’t manage to get in,” he said by telephone from the venue.
“Intuitively I would say there were at least 50 gunshots, and the police here are saying 200,” he told Agence France-Presse.
“Bullets went through the doors and everyone threw themselves to the floor,” he added.
The BBC released a chilling recording of the moment a speaker at the event was interrupted by a volley of gunshots.
Danish intelligence services (PET) indicated that the attack had been “planned”, but police said it was not clear whether any particular person had been the target.
Police initially said two suspects had fled the scene in a Volkswagen Polo. The car was found abandoned around two hours after the attack.
After witness statements indicated there was just one attacker, police later said they were hunting for a lone gunman.
Media reports said it was likely the gunman used an automatic rifle to fire as many rounds as possible in a short time.
“Denmark has today been hit by a cynical act of violence. Everything leads us to believe that the shooting was a political attack and therefore a terrorist act,” the Danish premier said in a statement.
The shootings come at a time of heightened security and rising fears of Islamist violence, after gunmen launched the worst attack in half a century on the streets of Paris last month.
Anti-terror sweeps carried out across Europe since mid-January have resulted in the arrests of dozens of suspected jihadists and seizures of large stocks of weapons and explosives.
Raids in Belgium on January 17 thwarted what police called imminent “terrorist attacks to kill police officers on public roads and in police stations”.
Two suspects were killed fighting Belgian police in those sweeps.
French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo raised the ire of Islamist extremists by publishing cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed and periodically satirising Islam.
Vilks has been living under police protection after his controversial cartoons prompted death threats.
Fears of attacks targeting symbols of freedom of speech and the press have been growing since the Charlie Hebdo assault, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire told AFP after the assault on the Copenhagen debate.
“It’s something that we feared after Charlie Hebdo,” Deloire said.
“Ultra-radical groups are leading a war against freedom of expression, against the freedom to be irreverent about religion and against the simple freedom to debate them.”
A Charlie Hebdo columnist voiced dismay over the attack at the Copenhagen cultural centre, saying: “We are all Danish tonight.”
“It’s horrible because it’s one month after the Paris attacks, it brings back all the sadness,” Patrick Pelloux told AFP.
Pelloux, who arrived at Charlie Hebdo’s offices just minutes after the attack by two Islamist gunmen, urged artists not to succumb to self-censorship out of fear.