- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

ODENSE, Denmark — Police raided homes in a largely immigrant suburb before dawn yesterday, detaining nine men on suspicion of preparing explosives for a terror attack in Denmark, which drew Muslim rage earlier this year over press caricatures of Islam’s founder.

Seven of the men were arraigned on preliminary charges of plotting a terror attack, but the other two were released. An Islamic imam, Abu Bashar, said the suspects were Muslims.

Officials in Odense, the country’s third-biggest city, did not reveal the planned target and said it was difficult to evaluate how far the plot had progressed.

The suspects had acquired material “to build explosives in connection with the preparation of a terror act,” said Lars Findsen, the head of the Danish Security Intelligence Service.

The raids, days ahead of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, came after two recent sweeps by British police, one that thwarted a plot to bomb jetliners over the Atlantic and another that netted a group accused of trying to recruit and train people for terror attacks.

Germany also arrested four persons in a botched plot to bomb trains.

News of the arrests sent jitters through Denmark, which heightened its terror preparedness early this year after caricatures of the prophet Muhammad were published in a Danish newspaper, sparking Muslim fury around the world.

Justice Minister Lene Espersen said she did not know whether the plot was related to the cartoon crisis in February, when Danish and other Western embassies were attacked by mobs in Muslim countries.

Mrs. Espersen called the case “the most serious matter” of her tenure. “The clues police found indicate that they were very likely planning an attack somewhere in Denmark,” she said.

The identities of the arrested men were not released, but authorities said that all were Danish citizens ages 18 to 33 and that all but one had immigrant backgrounds. They were arrested in Vollsmose, an Odense suburb populated by many immigrants.

The seven suspects facing charges arrived for a closed-court hearing in Odense handcuffed with plastic strips. They were removed upon the request of their attorneys.

Prosecutor Erik Terp Jensen urged that the suspects be kept in custody as the investigation continues. The maximum sentence is life in prison, although such sentences are commuted after 16 years under Danish law.

Witnesses said several more people had been rounded up in the raids but were released after police checked their identities.

Mahir Arrar, 18, said he was with a friend at Odense’s harbor when police took them both to a police station. Mr. Arrar said that he was released but that his friend, whom he declined to identify, remained in custody.

“I believe this is a big misunderstanding,” Mr. Arrar said outside the courthouse.

Another man, who identified himself only as Ali K., said police detained his whole family but released everyone except his 21-year-old brother.

“They looked for weapons, but they have found nothing. They also searched our basement,” he said.

Authorities said the suspects had been under surveillance for some time.

Mr. Findsen said the sweep was not related to neighboring Germany’s arrest of four Lebanese suspected of involvement in a plot to bomb trains.

German press has said one of those suspects, Youssef Mohamad el Hajdib, was heading to Denmark, and German and Danish press said German police found a telephone number in his pocket for Mr. Bashar, the imam in Odense.

Mr. Bashar denied knowing Mr. el Hajdib, but he said it is a just matter of time before terrorists strike in Denmark.

“Osama bin Laden said in a message three years ago that he will punish the countries that have [troops] in Iraq,” Mr. Bashar said. “Denmark is on the list.”

About 500 Danish troops are serving in southern Iraq under British command and 360 are in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led force.

Terrorists have not struck in Denmark since 1985, when a bomb exploded outside the offices of Northwest Orient Airlines in Copenhagen, killing one person and wounding 16. Three Palestinians living in Sweden were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1989.

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