COPENHAGEN – Danish police shot and killed a man early Sunday who likely carried out shooting attacks at a free speech event and a synagogue in Copenhagen that left two people dead.
Investigator Joergen Skov told reporters that “nothing at this point suggests there were other perpetrators” in the shootings that also left five police officers wounded.
The dramatic events that unfolded in Copenhagen stirred fears that another terror spree was underway in a European capital a month after 17 people were killed in Paris attacks.
Skov said the gunman was killed in a firefight with police in the Noerrebro district of Copenhagen. No police were wounded in that shooting.
The first shooting happened before 4 p.m. Saturday when police said a gunman used an automatic weapon to shoot through the windows of the Krudttoenden cultural center during a panel discussion on freedom of expression featuring a Swedish artist who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad. The artist, Lars Vilks, was whisked away unharmed by his bodyguards but a 55-year-old man attending the event was killed, while three police officers were wounded, authorities said.
Two belonged to the Danish security service PET, which said the circumstances surrounding the shooting “indicate that we are talking about a terror attack.”
After midnight Sunday, a Jewish man was killed and two police officers were wounded in the second shooting outside the synagogue.
Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, the head of Denmark’s Jewish community, told Danish public broadcaster DR that the victim was guarding the entrance of a building adjacent to the synagogue.
Skov said the shooter was confronted by police as he returned to an address that they were keeping under surveillance. Investigators described him as 25 to 30 years old with an athletic build and carrying a black automatic weapon. They released a blurred photograph of the suspect wearing dark clothes and a scarf covering part of his face.
Vilks, a 68-year-old artist who has faced numerous death threats for depicting Muhammad as a dog in 2007, said he believed he was the intended target of the first shooting, which happened at a panel discussion titled “Art, blasphemy and freedom of expression.”
“What other motive could there be? It’s possible it was inspired by Charlie Hebdo,” he said, referring to the Jan. 7 attack by Islamic extremists on the French newspaper that had angered Muslims by lampooning Muhammad.
Police said it was possible the gunman had planned the “same scenario” as in the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Leaders across Europe condemned the violence and expressed support for Denmark. Sweden’s security service said it was sharing information with its Danish counterpart, while U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said U.S. officials were ready to help with the investigation and have been in touch with their Danish counterparts.
Vilks has faced several attempted attacks and death threats after he depicted Muhammad as a dog in 2007. A Pennsylvania woman last year got a 10-year prison term for a plot to kill Vilks. In 2010, two brothers tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden and were imprisoned for attempted arson.
The depiction of the prophet is deemed insulting to many followers of Islam. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.
While many Muslims have expressed disgust at the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo employees, many were also deeply offended by its cartoons lampooning Muhammad.