Fears of a terror attack in Denmark, a staunch supporter of the American-led coalition in Iraq, are increasing after Islamic extremist groups targeted the small Scandinavian country and bomb scares have led to heightened security.
The London bombings were “a warning to all European countries, but first and foremost to Denmark, which still has soldiers stationed in Muslim countries,” the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a terrorist organization linked to the Madrid train attack, announced in an Internet posting. The al Qaeda-linked group that took responsibility for the London attacks had previously threatened Denmark and Italy.
“Denmark is at a huge risk for a terrorist operation,” said Zeyno Baran, a terrorism expert at the Nixon Center. “We know that the intention is there and it will happen sooner or later.”
Three out of four Danes believe that an attack on their country by Islamic extremists is likely or very likely in the near future, according to a Gallup poll conducted last week.
Half of those surveyed by Gallup support Denmark’s participation in the Iraq coalition and 43 percent are opposed. More than 500 Danish troops are stationed in southern Iraq, near Basra.
Three bomb scares interrupted travel on Copenhagen’s train and metro system last week, and the royal residence at Amalienborg palace was sealed off because of a suspicious package.
Though it is clear that radical Islamic groups have the motivation to make terrorist strikes, it is unknown whether they have the capability and foot soldiers to conduct one, analysts say.
The relatively small size of Denmark’s Muslim population, estimated at under 250,000, makes it much easier for police to monitor potential recruits, said Jonathan Stevenson, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Peter Viggo Jakobsen, head of security studies at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said Danish Muslims fought in Afghanistan but there is no evidence that anyone has joined the Iraqi insurgency.
Since the London attacks, the focus has shifted away from external threats to Danish-born Muslims who feel marginalized by society and angered by the right-wing government’s stringent immigration policies and active participation in the Iraq war.
The radical Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, which is banned in Germany, is known to recruit in Denmark’s immigrant neighborhoods and has several hundred members, said Miss Baran. Though Hizb ut-Tahrir does not directly incite violence, the environment it creates has the potential to radicalize young adherents, she added.
Danish experts emphasize that the population must remain vigilant even if an attack does not occur in the coming months.
“For even the most well-informed expert, it is impossible to accurately assess the level of threat,” said Hans-Henrik Holm, a political science professor at the Danish School of Journalism. “In London they downgraded the security threat just before the attacks.”