COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish authorities had a Copenhagen gunman in their sights even before his attacks on Saturday but did not consider him a threat, police said on Tuesday, even as reports emerged that he had served time in prison with a Muslim radical.
The gunman, reported in Danish media to be Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, was known for violence and gang activity, and served time in jail for stabbing a man. But intelligence services concluded there was no risk of an attack even as prison officials raised the alarm that his behavior was changing.
The man first attacked a cafe hosting a free speech event, probably trying to kill Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who has received death threats for drawings of the Prophet Mohammad. Though Vilks was unharmed, a 55-year-old film maker participating in the event was killed.
The gunman also attacked a synagogue, killing a guard, before police killed him in Sunday morning shootout.
Police said the man appeared to have acted alone and was not part of a cell, although they also arrested two people on Monday accused of helping him.
Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet said El-Hussein served time with Danish-Moroccan Sam Mansour, convicted several times for inciting terrorism with Facebook comments like “Jihad is a duty.”
Prison officials declined to comment but the paper said Muslim inmates have joint Friday prayers at the prison, regularly followed by discussions in Arabic.
Police released no new information about the case on Tuesday and the government also declined to comment. But the anti-immigration populist Danish People’s Party, the likely kingmaker in elections due later this year, said the attacks proved the case for more radical action against immigration.
“People who support criminal activity like terror and fraud should have their citizenship taken away,” Peter Skaarup, the deputy chairman and justice spokesman for the Danish People’s Party told Reuters. “The same goes for people traveling as ‘holy warriors’ to Syria and Iraq.”
“We want tough border controls with real guards and gates so we can control who enters the country,” Skaarup said.
The son of Palestinian immigrants, El-Hussein was not known as an Islamist radical and his religious devotion was average, his father told Danish TV2.
An avid kick boxer in his younger years growing up in a relatively poor immigrant community, El-Hussein was known as a good student who had a short temper and grew increasingly frustrated over personal issues.
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called the weekend’s events a terrorist attack and police said they were possibly modeled on attacks by Islamic militants in Paris that killed 17 including journalists at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper last month.
Additioal reporting by Teis Jensen and Alexander Tange; Editing by Peter Graff