Danish envoy: Synagogue attack ‘very un-Danish’

Ambassador Jesper Vahr says Denmark committed to protecting country’s Jewish community, promoting tolerance

Denmark's ambassador to Israel, Jesper Vahr (YouTube: screen capture)
Denmark's ambassador to Israel, Jesper Vahr (YouTube: screen capture)

The deadly shooting outside a synagogue in Copenhagen is a “totally unacceptable” attack against the Jewish community, which constitutes a dramatic break in the long-standing tradition of good relations between Denmark and its Jews, Denmark’s ambassador to Israel said Sunday.

Speaking to Army Radio, Jesper Vahr offered his condolences to the family of the young Jewish security guard who was killed in the attack, and said the government in Copenhagen was taking steps to ensure the safety of the country’s Jewish community in the future.

“This [shooting] is very un-Danish, this is not the sense of security that is normally part and parcel of our society,” Vahr said. “Our safety and security issues go above anything else. We take security around synagogues very seriously.”

The identity of the victim of the attack was not made public, though Denmark’s former chief rabbi confirmed Sunday that he was a member of Copenhagen’s Jewish community.

This image made from TV2 via Associated Press News video shows armed police guard behind police tape near a synagogue where police reported a shooting in downtown Copenhagen, Denmark, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015. One person was shot in the head and two police officers were shot in the arms and legs, police said. (photo credit: AP Photo/TV2 via APTN)
Image from a video shows armed police guard near a synagogue where police reported a shooting in downtown Copenhagen, February 15, 2015. (photo credit: AP/TV2 via APTN)

The Danish ambassador went on to warn that while he considered the attack to be a form of terrorism, one should be careful not to single out entire communities based on an individual act.

“I don’t have any further information on [the attack] at this point,” Vahr said. “Denmark has prided itself on being a country of tolerance, and it is important that we do not draw conclusions from the individual [attacker] to the community.”

The attack outside a synagogue in the Danish capital came only hours after a shooting at a free-speech event late Saturday night in Copenhagen.

The twin shootings, which left a total of two dead and five injured, were “clearly acts of terrorism,” Rabbi Yitzchok Loewenthal, a representative of the Chabad movement in Copenhagen, told Israel Radio in an interview early Sunday.

Police couldn’t say whether the shootings were connected, but didn’t rule it out. In both shootings, the gunman got away.

“We are looking for two perpetrators,” Copenhagen Police spokesman Allan Wadsworth-Hansen told reporters.

Later Sunday, Copenhagen police fired shots near a train station, killing one person. “The police have fired shots at Noerrebro Station. One person is hit,” the Copenhagen Police wrote on Twitter. Police later added that they were “investigating if the person could be behind the shootings at Krudttoenden and the synagogue in Krystalgade.”

The first shooting happened shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday. Danish police said the gunman used an automatic weapon to shoot through the windows of the Krudttoenden cultural center during a panel discussion on freedom of expression following the Paris attacks. A 55-year-old man attending the event was killed, while three police officers were wounded. Two belonged to the Danish security service PET, which said the circumstances surrounding the shooting “indicate that we are talking about a terror attack.”

The gunman then fled in a carjacked Volkswagen Polo that was later found a few kilometers away, police said.

After searching for the first gunman for hours, police reported the second shooting in downtown Copenhagen after midnight Sunday. Wadsworth-Hansen said that a gunman opened fire at two police officers outside the synagogue. They were wounded in the arms and legs but were not in life-threatening condition, while a civilian man was killed. The gunman fled on foot.

Police initially said there were two gunmen at the cultural center but later said they believed there was only one shooter. They described him as 25-30 years old with an athletic build and carrying a black automatic weapon. They released a blurred photograph of the suspect wearing dark clothes and a scarf covering part of his face.

This photo dated Saturday Feb. 14, 2015, issued by Copenhagen Police, is believed to show the suspect in a shooting at a freedom of speech event in Copenhagen, in a photo believed to be taken on a street camera near to where the getaway car was later found dumped. (photo credit: AP Photo /Copenhagen Police)
Photo believed to show the suspect in a shooting at a freedom- of-speech event in Copenhagen. The photo is believed to be taken by a street camera near the spot where the getaway car was later found dumped, February 14, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Copenhagen Police)

Parts of the Danish capital were cordoned off after the shooting near the synagogue, but “it’s not a question of a general curfew. People are allowed to travel around Copenhagen, safely,” Wadsworth-Hansen said.

In a post on its Twitter account, the Danish Emergency Management Agency urged people in central Copenhagen to text “I’m okay” to their families.

Last month, four Jewish men were killed in a terror attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris, days after the January 7 Islamist attack against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

AFP and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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