Denmark’s domestic intelligence service acknowledged yesterday that prison officials alerted the agency last year to the suspected gunman in the weekend’s shooting attacks that killed two people and wounded five in Copenhagen.
The Danish security and intelligence service, known by its Danish acronym PET, said the report, in September, didn’t give any reason to believe that the 22-year-old was planning an attack. PET also said it didn’t have any intelligence before the gunman’s shooting sprees at a cultural centre and synagogue that an attack was imminent.
A 55-year-old Danish documentary filmmaker and a Jewish security guard died and five police officers were wounded in the shootings before the gunman was killed early Sunday in a firefight with a Swat team.
Two sources close to the case identified the gunman as Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein. One said he was released from jail about two weeks before the attacks after serving time for a stabbing in November 2013.
A native of Denmark with Palestinian parents, El-Hussein had been in and out of prison since 2011 after being convicted of weapons, violence and other offences, court documents showed.
Many Danes first saw El-Hussein’s image in November 2013, when he was wanted by police for gravely wounding a 19-year-old student in his thigh and buttocks with a large knife.
He told the court he had smoked hashish and was feeling paranoid when he randomly attacked the student.
Prosecutors charged him with attempted homicide but a judge convicted him of aggravated assault, taking into account Mr El-Hussein’s claim that he never meant to kill the victim, said court reporter Jesper Braarud Larsen, who covered his trial in December.
While he was awaiting trial for the stabbing attack a change in his behaviour last summer set off enough “alarm bells” for jail authorities to alert PET, a source close to the investigation said. Such warnings usually set in motion counter-radicalisation efforts, such as counseling in jail – but court documents make no mention of this taking place.
The agency’s director, Jens Madsen, has confirmed they had been aware of the gunman, and that El-Hussein might have been inspired by last month’s attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris, which killed 17 people.
Sentenced to the time he had already served, El-Hussein was released about two weeks ago, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity as police haven’t officially identified the gunman.
On Monday, a judge ordered ten days of pre-trial detention for two people accused of helping El-Hussein get rid of a weapon while evading authorities. Both men deny the charges, said Michael Juul Eriksen, a defence lawyer for one of the two.
Denmark’s prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said there was no indication that the gunman was part of a wider cell, but gave no evidence for that claim.
Ms Thorning-Schmidt joined Danish crown prince Frederik, foreign dignitaries and some 30,000 people on Monday night to honour the victims outside the Krudttoenden cultural centre.
The centre, which was hosting a panel discussion with a Swedish artist who had caricatured the prophet Muhammad, was the gunman’s first target on Saturday. The artist, Lars Vilks, was whisked away unharmed by his bodyguards. US president Barack Obama has phoned the Danish prime minister to offer his condolences. The White House said Obama spoke with Ms Thorning-Schmidt on Sunday and offered the support of the US.