COPENHAGEN (AFP) — Tens of thousands of Danes gathered for a torch-lit vigil in central Copenhagen Monday evening to commemorate the victims of two weekend shootings that have shocked the nation and heightened fears of a new surge in anti-Semitic violence.
Stunned citizens in what is usually one of the world’s most peaceful countries flocked to a rally in a square near the cultural centre that was the scene of the first attack. Many held aloft flaming torches, illuminating the chilly winter night.
A police spokesman estimated that some 30,000 people had turned out to pay tribute to the two victims.
The first victim, 55-year-old film-maker Finn Norgaard, was killed when a gunman opened fire during a debate on free speech on Saturday.
The same gunman then targeted the city’s main synagogue, killing 37-year-old Dan Uzan.
“Tonight I want to tell all Danish Jews: you are not alone. An attack on the Jews of Denmark is an attack on Denmark, on all of us,” Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt told the crowd at the vigil.
Faced with the spectacle of European Jews being again targeted by extremists, just over a month after similar attacks in Paris, governments on the continent were scrambling to reassure their Jewish communities.
Thorning-Schmidt said Danes had come together to “insist on living free and safe lives in a democratic country.”
“When others try to scare us and tear us apart, our response is always a strong community,” she declared.
Earlier, she urged Jews Monday to disregard an Israeli calls for Jews to seek refuge in the Jewish state, saying Denmark “wouldn’t be the same without the Jewish community”.
The 22-year-old gunman, a Dane of Palestinian origin, was killed by police in a shootout Sunday. He has been identified by media as Omar El-Hussein.
He was said by the media to have been released from prison just two weeks ago after serving a term for aggravated assault — raising fears he may have become radicalised behind bars.
Two suspects were on Monday charged with helping him get rid of his weapon and giving him somewhere to hide, the lawyer of one of the men, Michael Juul Eriksen, told AFP.
But he said the unnamed men denied the charges “completely”.
Hallmarks of Paris attacks
After firing a volley of bullets at the cultural center during a debate Saturday on Islam and free speech, killing a documentary film-maker, the attacker opened fire Sunday on a synagogue, killing a Jewish man acting as a guard.
Five policemen were wounded in the two incidents before the gunman was tracked down to a working-class district of Copenhagen.
The attacks bore some of the hallmarks of last month’s jihadist attacks on a satirical magazine, kosher supermarket and police officers in Paris, in which 17 people died.
The suspected target of the shooting at the cultural centre was a controversial Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks, who sparked fury in the Muslim world in 2007 by depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a dog.
Swedish police said Monday he had gone into hiding because his home in the south of the country was “not a safe place.”
The violence sparked fresh fears of an exodus of European Jews, terrorized by the third major anti-Semitic attack on the continent in under a year.
A French Islamist radical is accused of shooting dead four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014.
The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center said it feared a “pan-European epidemic” and called for a Europe-wide conference against anti-Semitism.
Flags were flown at half-mast across the country Monday.
Tearful Danes laid a sea of flowers at the sites of the killings, while the Copenhagen bourse observed a minute’s silence in honour of the victims.
Dozens of bouquets were also left outside a building in the inner-city neighbourhood of Noerrebro where El-Hussein was shot dead.
An elderly woman who brought flowers said “the boy didn’t know what he was doing.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately urged European Jews to move to Israel after the Copenhagen shooting, echoing a similar call made after the Paris attacks.
France, which has the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, was itself reeling on Monday from the desecration of hundreds of tombs at a Jewish cemetery.
President Francois Hollande said Jews belonged in Europe and “in particular in France”, while his Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: “To combat Islamo-fascism, for that is what it should be called, our force must come from unity.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also pledged to do everything to ensure the safety of Jews in a country whose very identity is shaped by the Holocaust.
Thorning-Schmidt warned against stigmatising Muslims over the attack.
“This is a conflict between the core values of our society and violent extremists,” she said. “I want to underline that this is not a conflict between Islam and the West. This is not a conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims.”