The gunman who carried out two fatal attacks in Copenhagen over the weekend did not appear to have had any ties to a terrorist cell, Denmark’s prime minister said Monday.
As flags on government buildings flew at half-staff in honor of the victims, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt sought to reassure the shocked nation and vowed it would emerge from this episode stronger than ever.
“We have now experienced the fear that terrorism seeks to spread, but we have as a community also responded with determination and resolve,” she said at a news conference. “The freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly are, for the Danish people, rights and values that we see as fundamental. They are irreversible.”
New details started to emerge about the 22-year-old Danish-born man who authorities say attacked a free-speech debate and a synagogue.
Thorning-Schmidt said the gunman was known to police because of his violent past and links to a criminal gang in Copenhagen, but she emphasized that there was no sign that he was affiliated with any group that might have groomed him for an attack.
Danish officials, however, said he was on the intelligence service’s radar and may have been inspired by the Islamic State militant group. Police also reportedly were investigating whether he was trying to imitate last month's attacks in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Authorities did not immediately release the name of the suspected gunman, though the Associated Press, citing sources close to the investigation, and numerous other media identified him as Omar Abdel Hamid Hussein.
Danish media reported that he was a student at an adult education center in Copenhagen where the principal, Peter Zinkernagel, described him as a “very talented and gifted student” and classmates remembered him as nice but a bit of a loner.
The news reports said he was expelled in November 2013 for his involvement in the stabbing of a 19-year-old man in a subway train and was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated assault. He reportedly was released a few weeks before the Saturday attacks.
While he was behind bars, prison authorities identified him as having radical views and raised their concerns with intelligence, according to Danish media.
A video also emerged of Hussein fighting in a Thai kickboxing match.
Hussein’s attacks left two dead and five police officers injured. He initially escaped after the attacks, but was killed Sunday morning during a gun battle with police.
Danish police charged two men on Monday with being accomplices. “The two men are charged with helping the perpetrator with advice and deeds,” police said in a statement.
The pair, who were arrested Sunday, appeared before a magistrate in Copenhagen in a closed custody hearing. They were accused of helping the assailant dispose of his gun and providing him somewhere to hide after the attacks.
A lawyer for one of the men told reporters at the court that they deny the charges.
Film director Finn Norgaard, 55, was killed in the first shooting at the free-speech debate. The second slain man was identified as Dan Uzan, 37, who was killed outside a synagogue while acting as a volunteer guard during a bat mitzvah ceremony.
The mother of the girl celebrating her bat mitzvah that evening said they were forced to seek shelter in a panic room within the synagogue.
She told the BBC how she tried to keep the children calm as thoughts were rushing through her head. She said she thought, “How am I going to explain this to my children; what will I say to his parents — to the security guard’s parents?”
A memorial took place Monday evening in front of the cultural center where the first shooting took place. The prime minister and crown prince joined thousands honoring the victims.
During the morning news conference, Thorning-Schmidt said the attack on the Jewish community was “an attack on all of Denmark.”
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of two civilians,” Thorning-Schmidt said, while praising the swift response of law enforcement. “This could have turned into a much worse incident. We were lucky.”
Boyle is a special correspondent.