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Guest blog: Update on attempted murder of Lars Hedegaard

Guest blog: Update on attempted murder of Lars Hedegaard

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Would-be assassin of Lars Hedegaard may have been holy warrior in Syria - Ingrid Carlqvist

A 26-year-old Lebanese man accused of an attempt on the life of Danish journalist and Dispatch International editor Lars Hedegaard in February 2013 was arrested in Turkey recently. According to press reports, he is connected with extremist Islamic circles in Denmark and Sweden and has probably taken part in the fighting in Syria.

The Copenhagen police were tight-lipped at a recent press conference when they announced that they had succeeded in catching the man believed responsible for the attempt on the life of Dispatch International editor Lars Hedegaard on February 5, 2013. The man, known as the ”postman”, was arrested in Istanbul on Friday, April 25 and incarcerated in a Turkish high-security prison awaiting extradition to Denmark.

The police have been largely unwilling to show their hand – probably because the investigation is still ongoing. Hans Erik Raben, daily leader of the Copenhagen murder squad, tells Dispatch International that there is still work to be done but that the police are convinced they have their man.

Among the few details revealed by the Danish police is that the suspect is 26 and a Danish citizen of Lebanese extraction. At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of a fake passport. It has also come to light that he left Denmark on the very day the assassination attempt took place and that he has since been traveling between Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

On April 28 the Copenhagen daily Politiken reported that the ”postman” – so-called because he was dressed up in a Danish postal jacket when trying to shoot Lars Hedegaard in front of his home – has connections to Islamist extremists in both Denmark and Sweden. That may explain why the police have conducted nine searches at locations in Denmark and two abroad. Politiken believes that they have taken place in Sweden and Turkey. 

During the recent press conference, the police announced that so far they have no evidence to indicate that others have been involved in the planning or execution of the crime.

According to Politiken the police are aware that the suspect is linked to radical Muslim groups but he was not on the ”top-ten list of Islamicists and has not been involved in concrete cases. For that reason he was not in the police’s searchlight immediately after the assassination attempt.”

For many months, the Copenhagen police have spread the impression that their investigation was going nowhere. This would now appear to have been a deliberate strategy so as not to give the suspect any indication that he was being watched. When talking to Lars Hedegaard, however, the police have constantly expressed their conviction that they would eventually get to the bottom of the crime.

On November 7 last year, the Copenhagen police aided by the intelligence and security service, PET, had gathered sufficient evidence to convince a judge that the ”postman” should be jailed in absentia. This took place during a secret court hearing and for months the public was kept uninformed. Pursuant to the court ruling, search warrants for the 26-year-old have been issued in several countries and especially in Turkey.

According to Politiken, the police have succeeded in tracking the suspect by following his digital footprints and in that connection it has come to light that he has probably taken part in the fighting in Syria.

The prominent Swedish terror expert Magnus Ranstorp from the Defense Academy (Försvarshögskolan) in Stockholm is not convinced that the would-be assassin acted alone. As reported by the Copenhagen daily Information on April 28, Ranstorp finds it hard to believe that the attempt on Lars Hedegaard’s life is unconnected to extremist Islamist circles. 

”Everything points to violent Islamist extremism,” says Magnus Ranstorp, who is certain that al-Qaeda is targeting Lars Hedegaard.

"Their targets change depending on how the debate evolves. Lately, Lars Hedegaard has moved up on the list together with [former imam and Muhammed cartoon ring leader] Ahmed Akkari and [ex-Muslim radical turned Islam critic] Morten Storm,” says Magnus Ranstorp.

As the Swedish terror expert tells the daily Kristeligt Dagblad, Ahmed Akkari and Lars Hedegaard are among those most often targeted by the al-Qaeda publication Inspire.

The Copenhagen police have not yet decided if the "postman” will be prosecuted for a common assassination attempt or as a terrorist. If his crime is determined to be a violation of Article 114 – the terror clause – of the Danish penal code, he risks a 50 percent longer jail term.

”If his motive has been to stop people like Lars Hedegaard and the kind of public statements he represents, he will be prosecuted according to the terror article,” says professor of criminal law at Copenhagen University Jørn Vestergaard to Politiken.

The Danish Supreme Court has clearly indicated that the attempt on Muhammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard on January 1, 2010 perpetrated by a Somali immigrant was an attack on free speech and therefore a violation of Article 114. The same may be the case with the attempt on Lars Hedegaard’s life, says Jørn Vestergaard.

Kurt Westergaard’s assailant received a sentence of 10 years in jail and expulsion from Denmark.

Immediately after the attempt on Lars Hedegaard’s life, a number of commentators hinted that it might not have happened.

One such commentator was the Swedish journalist and author Katarina Mazetti. During a discussion at the Publicist Club in Stockholm she asked; ”How come … that no journalist in Denmark or Sweden has asked the question whether the story is a fabrication?”

Similar statements by prominent Danish commentators were reported by the website Uriasposten and mentioned in the daily Politiken:

”There must”, writes Kristeligt Dagblad in its leading article on April 28, ”be a number of debaters throughout the country with long faces and a strange taste in their mouths for during the 14-month-long investigation several of them have hinted that the entire assassination attempt might have been arranged – possibly even by Hedegaard himself because he needed some PR in support of his self-declared role as champion in the battle against Islamism.”

 

Update: the suspect’s Turkish lawyer Ayse Sönmez told Politiken that her client absolutely denies having tried to kill anybody. The jailed Danish citizen further claims that he has never set foot in Denmark.