Trio plead not guilty to Muhammad cartoon plot

Three men suspected of planning an attack on the Danish newspaper that printed controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005 pleaded not guilty as their trial opened in Oslo on Tuesday.

Mikael Davud, a member of the Chinese Uighur minority and Norwegian national believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda; Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak, an Iraqi Kurd residing in Norway; and David Jakobsen, an Uzbek also living in Norway, denied the charges of "conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack" and "possession of materials used to make explosives".

According to the prosecution, the trio first planned and prepared an attack against the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and then the target switched to caricaturist Kurt Westergaard whom they planned to kill.

Westergaard, 76, drew the most controversial of the 12 cartoons, featuring the prophet Muhammad with a lit fuse in his turban, which touched off a wave of violent and sometimes deadly protests around the Muslim world.

The three were arrested in July 2010 after procuring chemicals used to make explosives. Police found hydrogen peroxide and acetone stored in a cellar belonging to Bujak.

According to Norway's intelligence agency PST, 40-year-old Davud, presented as the mastermind, had ties to Al-Qaeda which trained him in explosives handling at a camp in Pakistan between November 2008 and July 2010.

"This adds to the gravity of the case, by giving it an international dimension," prosecutor Geir Evanger told AFP.

"The fact that an international terrorist organisation has turned its glance to northern Europe is worrying and shows that this is not just kids' games," he said.

According to Evanger, weapons manuals, instructions on how to make explosives, calls for a "jihad" (holy war) and a video of Ayman al-Zawahiri, now Al-Qaeda's chief, were all found on a multimedia device.

In his address book, police also found e-mail addresses for people it believes to be linked to Al-Qaeda and who were suspected to have been in contact with the plotters of an attack on the New York subway.

Davud has meanwhile denied any ties to Al-Qaeda. Through his lawyer, he said he had never travelled to Pakistan since arriving in Norway in 1999.

In police interrogations, Davud and Bujak, 38, both held in custody since their arrest, have admitted they were planning an attack, though their versions have differed on the target.

They have both rejected the claim that their plans constituted a terrorist attack.

Davud has said he was planning an attack on his own on Chinese interests, and that his motive was personal vengeance.

Bujak meanwhile said the target was the Jyllands-Posten newspaper and Westergaard, but through his lawyer explained that he had only vague plans that could not be considered a terrorism plot.

The third man, Jakobsen, who contacted police voluntarily in November 2009 and is the only one of the three to speak Norwegian, has denied any responsibility and is currently a free man.

The three men risk up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

The trial opened less than two weeks after the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed in Paris as it published an edition featuring the prophet Muhammad as "guest editor" on the cover.

The trial is scheduled to continue until late December and a verdict is expected early next year.

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Kongsberg attacker killed victims with ‘sharp object’

Norwegian police said Monday that the five victims of last week's attack were killed by a "sharp object" used by the suspect, not a bow and arrows.

The Kongsberg attacker is said to have killed five people with sharp objects. Pictured is police tape from a separate incident.
The Kongsberg attacker is said to have killed five people with sharp objects. Pictured is police tape from a separate incident. Photo by Søren Storm Hansen on Flickr.

“At some point he discarded or lost his bow and arrows,” police inspector Per Thomas Omholt told reporters.

He said that during the attack on Wednesday the suspect killed “five people with a sharp object both in private addresses and in public spaces”.

Police, who had previously said that the suspect Espen Andersen Brathen was armed with a bow and arrows and two other weapons, did not specify the nature of the sharp weapons, adding that they were still interviewing witnesses.

“Everything points to the victims being selected at random,” Omholt said.

According to the police, more than 10 people were also shot at with arrows at the start of the attack, but none were killed with this weapon.

READ MORE: Norway police query Kongsberg attacker’s Muslim faith

During police questioning, Brathen has confessed to the killings and to wounding three others.

The 37-year-old Danish citizen has announced publicly that he is a convert to Islam and initially police reported that there had been fears of radicalisation.

He is however being kept in a medical facility pending a psychiatric evaluation, which is necessary to determine whether Brathen can be held legally responsible for his actions.

“As far as motive is concerned, illness remains the main hypothesis. And as far as conversion to Islam is concerned, this hypothesis is weakened,” Omholt added.

On Saturday, police announced the identities of the five victims, four women and one man: Andrea Meyer, 52, Hanne Merethe Englund, 56, Liv Berit Borge, 75, Gunnar Erling Sauve, 75 and Gun Marith Madsen, 78.