Deep questions over Danish security


The gunman who had sprayed the art café with bullets was still at large.

It was only six hours since he had murdered filmmaker Fin Noorgard, who had been attending a freedom of speech event, and police were still clueless about his whereabouts or the location of his next target.

At that point, when guests began arriving at the batmitzvah party in the Jewish community centre next to Copenhagen's Central Synagogue, there were no armed police at the entrance.

"Only Dan Uzan was there," said Ronen Thalmay, a guest at the party. "Everyone knew about the previous attack and there was some tension. We were even told that there would be a headcount to make sure everyone was safe in case of an emergency. Then we went into the party.

"Three hours later, we were rushed into the safe room, all 40 remaining guests, and for 90 minutes we had no idea what had happened, until the police came to take us out."

While the leadership of the Jewish community and the Danish authorities have made every attempt to appear united in the wake of the two terror attacks in Copenhagen in which Mr Uzan and Mr Noorgard were murdered and five police officers wounded, there was also criticism from the community over insufficient security.

Community Chairman Dan Rosenberg Asmussen said on Monday that he had to urge the police to position men at the synagogue entrance. "When we called the police [after the first attack on Saturday afternoon], there were no police in front of the synagogue," he said. "There were police in the area but not on the spot."

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt denied this at a briefing for the international media, where she said: "As soon as the first attack took place [on the art cafe on Saturday] afternoon, the Danish police increased protection of the synagogue. We had the security in place and, had we not had the security in place, the situation could have ended much worse than it did."

Another bone of contention has been the community's request for increased security and a reassessment of the threat level since the Paris attacks last month. "We asked that police be stationed at the synagogue during services and events, and at the Jewish school when kids arrive in the morning," said Mr Rosenberg Asmussen. Community officials insist that the discussions with the government had been ongoing for over a month at the time of last weekend's attacks. "They answered that we are already protected at the highest level," said one community leader. "The problem is that it takes a long time in Denmark to change anything and that includes the realisation that we need a different approach with all that is happening across Europe."

Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt adamantly denied this, as well saying that "the protection of the Jewish synagogue had been increased after the Paris attacks".

Denmark's Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior tried to play down the differences with the government, noting that the extensive security system around the shul and community centre were government-funded and that "anyway, having more police around is not necessarily the way to stop a determined terrorist. The real prevention is through intelligence and surveillance."

But on that very point, there is also a great deal of controversy in Denmark. The shooter, Omar Abdel el-Hussein, a 22-year-old Copenhagen resident, was tracked down and shot dead by police in the early hours of Sunday morning. The fact he had been released from prison only two weeks earlier and was known by the authorities to have been radicalised in prison, where he spoke of his plan to travel to Syria and join the jihadists, has brought Denmark's terrorism policies into sharp focus.

Denmark has seen over 100 young men and women joining jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq in recent years, the second highest number per capita in Western Europe (Belgium has the highest per capita number). Unlike in Britain and a number of other European countries, Danish law does not prevent them from travelling to fight in the Middle East, and those who return are not arrested on terror-related charges.

Instead there are "deradicalisation" programmes designed to help them reintegrate back into society. The effectiveness of the government's approach is expected to be a central issue in the campaign leading to the elections in seven months.

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