Police in Denmark and Sweden say they have foiled an "imminent terror attack" by arresting five men who were allegedly plotting to kill employees of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) said it arrested four men in raids in the suburbs of Copenhagen and seized an automatic weapon, a silencer, and ammunition.
Three of the men -- a 44-year-old Tunisian citizen, a 29-year-old of Lebanese origin, and a 30-year-old whose origin was not immediately clear -- were identified as residents of Sweden.
Authorities say they had crossed the border into Denmark on December 28 or early today. The fourth person detained was a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum-seeker living in Denmark.
Swedish authorities detained a fifth person in connection with the plot, a 37-year-old Swedish national of Tunisian origin.
PET chief Jakob Scharf described some of the detained suspects as "militant Islamists with relations to international terror networks."
Danish intelligence said the group had been planning to enter the building that houses the newsroom of the "Jyllands-Posten" newspaper and "kill as many of the people present as possible."
Justice Minister Lars Barfoed described the plot as "probably the most serious terror attempt in Denmark."
In September 2005, "Jyllands-Posten" published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that stoked the ire of many Muslims.
The most contentious of the cartoons, by Danish artist Kurt Westergaard, depicted the prophet wearing a bomb with a lit fuse as a turban.
Conservative Muslims consider any depiction of the prophet to be blasphemy -- a crime punishable by death under Shari'a law.
The drawings sparked protests throughout the Muslim world in January and February 2006, culminating with the torching of Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus and Beirut and the death of dozens of people in Nigeria. Demonstrations in Afghanistan also turned violent and deadly.
The cartoons also prompted debate about freedom of the speech and religious tolerance.
In 2008, about 20 Danish newspapers reprinted the drawings as a show of their commitment to freedom of speech, triggering further protests in Muslim-majority countries including Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
Westergaard, who has received numerous death threats since the publication of his cartoon, was awarded in September in Germany with a prize for being a defender of free speech.
At the ceremony, the artist said he had not foreseen the worldwide anger that would greet the publication of his cartoon.
"By treating a Muslim figure the same way we would a Christian or Jewish icon, I am and we are sending an important message: 'You [Muslims] are not strangers. You are here to stay, and we accept you as an integrated part of our life,'" Westergaard said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was also on hand, commended the artist on upholding European values.
"No matter if we like his caricatures or not, if we find them tasteful or not, if we find them necessary or not, is he allowed to do that? Yes, he is," Merkel said.
"He is an artist like many in Europe. Europe is a place where an artist is allowed to draw things like that."
The foiled terror plot revealed today by Danish police was not the first case of a planned attack against the newspaper or Westergaard.
In 2009, two men were arrested in the U.S. city of Chicago for plotting to attack the newspaper's employees.
In September, a suspect detained in Norway confessed that he was planning an attack against "Jyllands-Posten," and in the same month, a Chechnya-born man was arrested in Copenhagen for preparing to send a letter bomb to the paper.
In January, a Somali man allegedly broke into Westergaard's home and threatened to kill him with an axe and a knife.
written by Richard Solash; with agency material