COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AFP) — Four men went on trial in Denmark on Thursday accused of helping the gunman behind twin attacks on a Copenhagen synagogue and a free speech event last year that left two people dead.
The trial, being held under heavy security, comes with Europe still on high alert over fears of jihadist violence following two bloody attacks in Paris in 2015.
Prosecutor Bo Bjerregaard accused the four defendants of trying to “destabilize or destroy Denmark’s basic political, constitutional, economic or societal structures.”
The killer, 22-year-old Danish-born Omar El-Hussein, opened fire on February 14 last year outside a cultural center where the speakers included Swedish artist Lars Vilks, a target of Islamic extremists since he portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007.
A 55-year-old filmmaker, Finn Norgaard, died and three people were injured.
Later that night the Dane of Palestinian origin fired six shots outside the city’s main synagogue, killing security guard Dan Uzan, 37, and injuring two other people.
The assailant was shot dead by police hours later.
The trial, which is expected to last until September, is to focus on events in the hours between the two attacks, when the four men are accused of having aided the killer.
The prosecution believes they are guilty of committing a “terror offence” by providing El-Hussein with support in the form of ammunition, a hoodie and a bag used in the second attack, and by paying for his time in an Internet cafe where he located the synagogue.
Two have also been charged with helping him get rid of a rifle he used at the cultural centre.
Released from prison just two weeks before the attacks after serving time for a stabbing, El-Hussein was known for his violent temper and for having ties to a criminal gang on the immigrant-heavy Mjolnerparken estate where he grew up.
While he reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group on his Facebook page on the day of the shootings, investigators say he was not part of a jihadist network.
Danish intelligence agency PET has however been criticised for failing to act on information from prison services that he was at risk of radicalisation.
Heavily-armed police guard
Because the preliminary hearings have been held behind closed doors, little is known about the four suspects, all of whom are expected to plead innocent.
If found guilty, they risk a term of life imprisonment, which in Denmark means they would be entitled to a pardoning hearing after 12 years.
The court on Thursday lifted a ban on disclosing the identities of the suspects after a media request.
They were named as Liban Ahmed Saleban Elmi, 20, Ibrahim Khalil Abbas, 23, Mahmoud Rabea, 31 and Bhostan Khan Hussein, 26.
Dozens of onlookers queued up outside the courtroom trying to get a seat inside, as about a dozen heavily-armed police guarded the building.
Lawyers for the defense and the families of the victims entered the courtroom without making any comments, while the accused entered from an adjoining jail where they have been held for almost a year.
The four appeared solemn as proceedings began, according to an AFP reporter.
One was unshaven and tired-looking, while another, sporting a shaved head, a black hoodie and a black jacket, smiled and shook the hands of two others and his lawyer.
“It has been hard waiting because the police can go out and say to the media what they think of the case but the defense can’t do the same,” Hussein’s lawyer Berit Ernst told AFP.
The prosecution, which has set aside 30 court days for the trial over seven months, believes it can show that the four were in close contact with El-Hussein in the hours after the first shooting.
It will have to prove their “intent,” meaning they knew about his plans to commit an act of terror.
Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen warned on the anniversary of the attacks that Denmark still faced a “serious terror threat.”
On Tuesday, police revealed that a 16-year-old Danish girl arrested in January had been planning to bomb two schools, one of which was Jewish.