‘Attacks have been a bombshell for the Danish’

22-year-old Dane shot dead after 14-hour police search having attacked cafe and synagogue in Copenhagen

Police forensics inspect bullet holes in the door of Krudttoenden cafe where the terrorist attack started in Copenhagen. Photograph: LIselotte Sabroe/Denmark Out

Police forensics inspect bullet holes in the door of Krudttoenden cafe where the terrorist attack started in Copenhagen. Photograph: LIselotte Sabroe/Denmark Out

 

Inna Shevchenko, a leader of the Ukrainian protest group Femen, was addressing an audience of about 30 people on the danger of gunmen suppressing free speech when the bullets started flying.

The “cheerful and relaxed” atmosphere of a debate on art, blasphemy and freedom of expression at the Krudttønden cafe in Copenhagen turned to panic on Saturday afternoon as a masked attacker riddled the windows with dozens of rounds. His target appeared to be the star guest, Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who depicted the prophet Muhammad as a dog in a 2007 cartoon, and whose life has been under threat ever since.

At first the shots sounded like children’s fireworks, said Agnieszka Kolek, the curator of the Passion for Freedom arts festival in London, who was to speak alongside Shevchenko. Then it intensified.

“Among the shooting I could hear Arabic: “Allahu Akbar!” she said. “It was throaty and really rough.”

The worst terror attack in Denmark in a decade was under way, and by its conclusion early yesterday morning it looked like an attempt to repeat last month’s attacks in Paris.

Killer known to police

Finn NørgaardDan Uzan

He wounded five police officers and paralysed the Danish capital with fear, but was crucially unable to get into either the seminar or the synagogue.

The attacks began at about 3.30pm on Saturday at the fashionable cultural centre which puts on African dance, storytelling and jazz. Vilks, the subject of assaults, arson and death threats for many years, was due to speak. Bags were searched and body checks carried out with a handheld detector. France’s ambassador to Denmark, François Zimeray, was among the guests and there were about a dozen guards including uniformed and plain-clothes police officers.

Within seconds of the gunshots ringing out, security officers ordered: “Everyone out, everyone down on the floor”, according to Helle Merete Brix, a freelance journalist chairing the event.

“Chairs went flying around because everyone was looking for somewhere to run,” said Kolek. “There was a commotion of people trying to escape.”

Vilks’s guards pushed Brix and the artist into a catering store room where they held hands under a table. Vilks managed a joke: “If we have to stay here long we can start with the beers.” Kolek tucked herself between the loudspeakers and a curtain, fearing she would be shot in the back if she ran for the exit.

“The attacker was trying to shoot his way in through the lobby and into the hall where we were all sitting,” said Brix.

“The whole bar was showered with bullets,” said Kolek.

Nørgaard, a TV documentary director, had chosen the wrong moment to take a break outside.

“He was brutally shot at very, very short distance,” Brix said, adding that she believed Danish police fired back. Three police officers were also wounded.

In the foyer, the gunman looked directly at a man working behind the bar who immediately ducked and shielded a woman working with him from any incoming shots, he told Kolek afterwards.

“He said it went quiet but he could feel [the attacker’s] presence and thought maybe he was reloading the gun,” said Kolek. “He grabbed the lady and ran upstairs and hid on the roof.”

The shooting stopped, but the gunman had escaped. Police released an image of him after the killing in which he was shown dressed in black with a burgundy balaclava and carrying a long object in a black bag.

Vehicle hijacked

Back at the cafe, those taking part in the debate had not been told Nørgaard was dead and Kolek rallied them to carry on.

“They didn’t just come to kill us, they wanted to stop us openly, as free citizens of our countries where we have democracy, having discussions,” she said.

“I invited everyone back and everyone sat down. People were really listening and were focused. I cracked a few jokes because I thought we had been through such a terrible event we need to laugh.”

With grim prescience, she even talked about how shooting Jewish people displayed attackers’ vulnerability, because it showed they felt unable to sit down and talk.

After nightfall, Denmark’s prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, declared the incident a terror attack and told the nation: “Denmark is in high alarm.”

Copenhagen police beefed up security at the city’s main synagogue in the Krystalgade area, where 80 people were due to celebrate a bat mitzvah.

Officers joined the temple’s regular doorman, a 6’9” basketball enthusiast, Dan Uzan.

At about 12.45am, the gunman approached the group and started shooting. One officer was shot in the legs and another in the arm. Both survived. Uzan was shot several times in the head and died. The police fired back but again the killer escaped.

In shock

The second killing only increased the pressure on the now huge manhunt, with a helicopter scouring streets, and officers locking down areas and contending with drunk revellers.

By the early hours of Sunday, armed police were poised at the Nørrebro building complex where the killer had been earlier.

At shortly before 5am Christoffer Rosenberg (25), a trainee teacher who lives in the graffiti-tagged streets of redbrick blocks and low-rise social housing, heard yelling and gunshots.

“I put my head out of the window and saw police swarming,” he said. “I didn’t want to see anyone get killed so I turned away.”

“After some shouting, the perpetrator shot at the police who then returned fire resulting in his death,” a police spokesman said.

The suspect was carrying two guns.

Later in the day at least two people were arrested by armed police at an internet cafe on Nørrebrogade. Police brought out one man in handcuffs.

“These attacks have been a complete bombshell for the Danish population,” said Rosenberg. “The idea of freedom of speech is strongly embedded in Danish identity. But at what price? It’s a very difficult question to answer

The Victims: Film director & security guard

Finn Nørgaard (55)

Nørgaard,who was killed in the cafe attack, directed and produced documentaries for Danish television including in 2004 Boomerang Boy about an Australian boy’s dreams to become a world boomerang champion and in 2008 Le Lea bout Vietnamese immigrants in Denmark.

TV producer Thomas Bartels told Norway’s VG newspaper he believed Norgaard was a random victim and had not made any documentaries that would have singled him out. Psychologist and friend Majken Matzau said he was “incredible, warm-hearted and creative”

Dan Uzan (37)

Dan Uzan, who was killed in the synagogue attack, came from a family active in Copenhagen’s Jewish community. He attended a Jewish school and joined the community’s security efforts, taking part in patrols to protect Jewish institutions, from a young age.

He was described by Denmark’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Jair Melchior, as an “irreplaceable” security guard protecting the city’s Jewish community. – (Guardian service)