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Catholic Church in Denmark Calls For Unity With Muslims, Jews After Shooting


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John Burger - published on 02/17/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Apparently targeting offenders of Islam, Dane of Palestinian background kills 2

The shootings in Denmark over the weekend, allegedly carried out by a man thought to be avenging insults against the Prophet Muhammad, will not affect the openness of Danish society, said an official of the Diocese of Copenhagen.

“Our Prime minister underlined several times during a memorial service yesterday the importance that Denmark should remain an open society despite these horrible attacks, and the general opinion and the political establishment seems to supports her view,” said Niels Messerschmidt, chief information officer for the Diocese of Copenhagen, in an email exchange with Aleteia.

Denmark’s domestic intelligence service acknowledged Tuesday that prison officials alerted the agency last year to the suspected gunman in last weekend’s shooting attacks that killed two people and wounded five, the Associated Press reported.

The Danish Security and Intelligence Service, known by its Danish acronym PET, said the report in September didn’t give any reason to believe that the 22-year-old was planning an attack.

A Danish documentary filmmaker and a Jewish security guard died and five police officers were wounded in the shootings before the gunman was killed early Sunday in a firefight with a SWAT team.

Two sources close to the case identified the gunman to The Associated Press as Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein. One said he was released from jail about two weeks before the attacks after serving time for a stabbing in November 2013.

A Denmark native with Palestinian parents, El-Hussein had been in and out of prison since 2011 after being convicted of weapons, violence and other offenses, court documents showed.

Denmark’s prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, said there was no indication that the gunman was part of a wider cell, but gave no evidence for that claim. She joined Danish Crown Prince Frederik, foreign dignitaries and some 30,000 people Monday night to honor the victims outside the Krudttoenden cultural center.

The center, which was hosting a panel discussion with a Swedish artist who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, was the gunman’s first target Saturday. The artist, Lars Vilks, was whisked away unharmed by his bodyguards. A 55-year-old documentary filmmaker was killed and three police officers were wounded.

Later Saturday, police say, the gunman visited an Internet cafe before moving on to the synagogue, where he opened fire early Sunday on the Jewish security guard and two police officers.

Denmark has foiled a series of terror plots since the 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper triggered riots in Muslim countries and calls for vengeance.

According to The Local DK, police said the attack may have been inspired by the Paris attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which consistently lampoons religious figures, including Muhammad. Danish police said they are investigating if El-Hussein had received help from others and the possibility he had travelled to conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq.

In spite of the apparent links to Islam, the Diocese’s Messerschmidt said Catholic-Muslim relations in Denmark continue to be strong.

“The Catholic Church in Denmark has had long and good relationships with the Muslim society and its leaders in our country,” he said. “We participate in various bodies to underline the importance of the role of religion in public space and the interfaith dialogue. Our first reaction to the attacks was to issue a joint statement condemning the attacks and with a call for unity among Christians, Muslims and Jews in the country. In the statement issued by the National Council of Churches together with Muslim organizations in Denmark on Sunday, they renounced the killings and called for “reconciliation, compassion and strengthened communities believing that we as God’s creatures are all equal human beings.”

John Burger
is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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