Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Danish Mohammed cartoonist attacker goes on trial

AFP - A Somali man charged with trying to kill the cartoonist behind the most controversial of the Danish caricatures of Prophet Mohammed goes on trial Wednesday in the central town of Aarhus.

The 29-year-old man, who has only been identified as Abdi in Danish media, could face life in prison if found guilty on all counts: attempted terrorism, attempted murder, attacking a police officer and illegal arms possession.

"He came to my house in Aarhus on January 1 (2010), broke down the front door with an ax and destroyed the television set and computer in the living room, screaming in Danish that he was going to kill me because I had offended the Muslim prophet," 78-year-old Kurt Westergaard told AFP on the eve of the trial.

The cartoonist, who was alone at home at the time with his five-year-old granddaughter, rushed into a bathroom that had been fortified and transformed into a panic room to "seek safety and call the police."

Police arrived at the scene just "three, four minutes after my call," Westergaard said.

The man came out wielding his ax and a knife at police, who shot him twice and wounded him before placing him under arrest.

Since his arrest the Somali has denied any wrongdoing, but according to Danish intelligence police, he is believed to be close to the Islamist movement al-Shebab, which has declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda extremist network and controls most of southern and central Somalia.

Westergaard has faced numerous death threats since the publication of his drawing of what appears to be the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.

It appeared in the Jyllands-Posten daily on September 30, 2005 along with 11 other cartoons of the Muslim prophet in what was meant to be part of a debate on self-censorship and freedom of speech.

The drawings sparked angry and even deadly protests across the Muslim world in early 2006 and again in early 2008, after numerous papers republished Westergaard's drawing following the unraveling of a plan to assassinate him.

Jyllands-Posten too has been the subject of a string of attack plots, the most recent one foiled at the end of December when Danish and Swedish police arrested five men they said had been planing to massacre staff at the paper's Copenhagen offices.

Wednesday's trial, which opens at 9:00 am (0800 GMT), is set to last for nine days and the verdict is expected around the first week of February.

Westergaard, who is scheduled to testify Thursday, said he thought "he will be sentenced to a heavy prison sentence."

"I do not want to excuse his actions, but I would really like to understand how he got to that point. Maybe he was manipulated," the cartoonist suggests, insisting more than five years after his drawing first appeared that it does not represent Mohammed.

"I made a caricature of a terrorist who evokes Islam and who abuses it, as some would say," said Westergaard, who today is closely watched over by bodyguards.

"I have gotten used to this situation. But I am not a prisoner. I can go where I want, thanks to my guardian angels," he said.

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