Danish assassination plot arrests re-open cartoon controversy
Jamel Arfaoui and Imane Belhaj contributed to this report – 14/02/08
The recent arrest of three men involved in an alleged plot to assassinate Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard – best known for his controversial 2005 depictions of the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist – has sparked a variety of reactions from the Maghreb, ranging from silence to condemnation.
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service announced the arrests on Tuesday (February 12th), identifying the culprits as two Tunisians and one Dane of Moroccan origin. Security sources said the three men were arrested in the western city of Aarhus after prolonged surveillance.
The cartoons originally appeared in the September 30th, 2005 issue of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, sparking such outrage among Muslims around the world that many Danish interests were violently attacked. Denmark's diplomatic missions were shut down in Damascus and Beirut, and scores were killed in Nigeria, Libya and Pakistan.
[Getty Images] A view of the building in Aarhus, Denmark where two Tunisian men and a Dane of Moroccan origin were arrested on (Tuesday) February 12th on suspicion of planning to murder Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, author of one of the controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed originally published in September 2005.
[Getty Images] A cleric calms protesters outside the Danish embassy in Beirut during violent riots on February 5th 2006. Tunisian Lawyer Lazhar Al-Akrami told Magharebia that "Killing under the pretext that the cartoonists disrespected the Prophet Muhammad is stupid."
Maghreb media reprinted a statement by Abdelhamid Al Hamdi, spokesman for the Danish Islamic Council, wherein he said Muslims in Denmark reject violence. He said the final word will rest with the judiciary, which has yet to reveal the facts about the case, including the admissibility of charges against the defendants.
Condemning the alleged assassination plot, the council stressed that differences should be reconciled through legal channels and called on politicians and the media to be reasonable and not use the recent events to worsen the situation.
When local media reported the event, some observers decried the would-be assassins while others criticised the Danish newspapers that republished the cartoons following the Tuesday arrests.
Moroccan sociologist Ali Foudail told Magharebia the events in Denmark have already brought the issue of the cartoons back to the forefront, and that re-printing them would not solve anything. "He is the Prophet, the noblest of all God's creations – he is not just a state leader. Therefore, Muslims can't allow any insults against him. The Danes should have left the file closed while the investigations are under way."
Younis, a Moroccan university student, said, "The Danes exaggerated their reaction to the news, deciding to re-publish these offensive cartoons. I don't know why some people demand that Muslims show prudence and self-control when their religion and prophet are disrespected, and at the same time they relentlessly provoke our feelings in the name of the freedom of expression."
The student said Moroccans "condemn murder under any name," but that some "enemies of Islam take advantage of the weakness of Muslims and provoke them so that they may show them as terrorists."
Danish authorities declared that the Danish citizen would be released upon questioning and the Tunisians would be deported.
The deportations have sparked strong criticism from Danish advocacy groups. Christoffer Badse, a lawyer with the Danish Institute of Human Rights, told AFP he found it "profoundly troubling that the reasons for these expulsions will not be judged by an independent court."
Attorney Franz Wenzel, who is representing one of the Tunisians, told Danish television: "It is incomprehensible that we can release one of the three suspects in this affair, a Danish citizen, for lack of evidence, yet expel two foreigners without knowing the reason why or giving them the chance to defend themselves before a judge."
Tunisian Lawyer Lazhar Al-Akrami told Magharebia he expects the two deported suspects to be arraigned under the Terrorism Law enacted in Tunisia in 2003.
"If this act is proven," he said, "it will be a shameful one. Killing under the pretext that the cartoonists disrespected the Prophet Muhammad is stupid."
Al-Akrami said the problem is a misunderstanding between Muslim and Christian society. He said, "I don't think the cartoonists are against Islam as such – rather they have a different idea of dealing with religious issues."
Sofiene Ben Hmida, journalist and member of the executive board of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, told Magharebia he feared the negative impact the arrests might have on other Muslims abroad. "I hope these psychopathic fanatics will not be linked to our civilisation. These eccentric people shouldn't be confused with the majority of immigrants residing in Europe."
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