Denmark’s leading newspapers today reprinted a cartoon which depicts the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.
The papers said they wanted to show their firm commitment to the freedom of speech after yesterday’s arrest in western Denmark of three people accused of plotting to kill one of the 12 Danish cartoonists behind the Prophet Mohammed drawings which sparked an uproar in the Muslim world two years ago.
“We are doing this to document what is at stake in this case, and to unambiguously back and support the freedom of speech that we as a newspaper always will defend,” said the Copenhagen-based Berlingske Tidende.
The drawing by Kurt Westergaard and 11 other cartoons depicting Muhammad enraged Muslims two years ago when they appeared in a range of Western newspapers.
Tabloid Ekstra Bladet reprinted all 12 drawings.
Yesterday’s arrests were made in pre-dawn raids in Aarhus, western Denmark, “to prevent a terror-related murder,” the police intelligence agency told the Associated Press.
It did not say how many people were arrested nor did it mention which cartoonist was targeted.
Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper which first published the drawings in September 2005, said the suspects were planning to kill its cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, 73.
“There were very concrete murder plans against Kurt Westergaard,” said Carsten Juste, the paper’s editor-in-chief.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Westergaard’s cartoon, which showed Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a lit fuse, was one of the most controversial when it was published in 2006.
Westergaard and his 66-year-old wife Gitte had been living under police protection because of the murder plans, Jyllands-Posten reported. It said those arrested included Danish and foreign citizens.
Westergaard said in a statement: “Of course I fear for my life when the police intelligence service say that some people have concrete plans to kill me. But I have turned fear into anger and resentment.”
The police intelligence service, called the action “preventive,” saying it decided to strike “at an early phase to stop the planning and the carrying out of the murder.”
The men arrested were two Tunisians and a Dane of Moroccan origin.
Intelligence service director Jakob Scharf said the 40-year-old Danish suspect faced a preliminary charge of violating a Danish terror law, but would probably be released after questioning as the investigation continued.
The two Tunisians would be expelled from Denmark because they were considered threats to national security.
He stressed that the operation was a “preventive measure” and was based on surveillance carried out over a period of time.
“Not wanting to take any undue risks, PET (the intelligence service) has decided to intervene at a very early stage in order to interrupt the planning and the actual assassination,” Scharf said.
The arrests startled Danes, who had come to believe that the cartoon crisis was a closed chapter.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “The case shows that, unfortunately, there are in Denmark group of extremists that do not accept and respect the basis principles on which the Danish democracy has been built on.”
The cartoon uproar was Denmark’s biggest crisis since the Second World War. Danes watched in disbelief as angry mobs burned the Danish flag and attacked Danish embassies in Muslim countries including Syria, Iran and Lebanon.
The newspaper initially refused to apologise for the cartoons, which it said it published in reaction to a perceived self-censorship among artists dealing with Islamic issues, but later said it regretted that the cartoons had offended Muslims.
The Danish government also expressed regrets to Muslims, but noted that it could not interfere with the freedom of the press.