COPENHAGEN, Denmark – An ax-wielding Somali man with suspected al-Qaida links was charged Saturday with two counts of attempted murder after breaking into the home of a Danish artist whose Prophet Muhammad cartoon outraged the Muslim world three years ago.
The suspect, who was shot twice by a police officer responding to the scene, was rolled into a Danish court on a stretcher, his face covered. He was ordered held for four weeks on preliminary charges of attempting to murder the cartoonist, as well as the police officer who shot him.
Efforts to protect the artist – 74-year-old Kurt Westergaard – were immediately stepped up, as he was moved to an undisclosed location.
The suspect, described by authorities as a 28-year-old Somali with ties to al-Qaida, allegedly broke into the house late Friday armed with an ax and a knife. The house is in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, 125 miles northwest of Copenhagen.
Jakob Scharf, head of Denmark’s PET intelligence agency, said Saturday the man might have attacked spontaneously.
“It seems that he acted alone, and maybe it was a sudden decision,” Scharf told Danish broadcaster TV2. He was not immediately available for further comment.
Westergaard, who has been the target of several death threats since depicting the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban, has been under round-the-clock protection by Danish police since February 2008.
When he heard someone trying to break into his home, he pressed an alarm and fled to a specially made safe room. His 5-year-old granddaughter was also in the house at the time.
Officers arrived two minutes later and tried to arrest the assailant. He threatened the officers with the ax, and one officer then shot him in the hand and knee, Preben Nielsen of the Aarhus police said.
Nielsen said the man’s wounds were serious but not life-threatening.