Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Denmark was hit by a “cold-blooded act of terror” Saturday, when bullets ripped through the windows of Krudttoenden cafe where Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was hosting a freedom-of-speech event in the Danish capital, according to the Local news site in Denmark. At least one person was killed in the attack, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We feel certain now that it was a politically motivated attack, and thereby it was a terrorist attack,” Thorning-Schmidt told Reuters. “We are on high alert all over the country.”
Two attackers were initially reported, but Copenhagen police said they are now searching for a lone gunman who was seen in a surveillance video, according to the Wall Street Journal. Police said the suspect is a male between 25 and 30 years old, about 6 feet tall, with an athletic build, light skin and black hair. He was wearing a black or dark-blue ski coat with matching pants and gloves. His face was covered up to his eyes with what appears to be a dark red guerrilla scarf and hat. The suspect was also carrying a black machine gun, the Local reported.
Spectators heard shouting and dozens of gunshots fired with an automatic weapon at the cafe around 4 p.m local time. At least one person was killed and two people, including a uniformed police officer, were wounded, the Associated Press reported, citing the TV2 channel.
“I saw a masked man running past,” Helle Merete Brix, one of the event’s organizers, told AFP. “I clearly consider this as an attack on Lars Vilks,” she added, saying Vilks was at the meeting, but was uninjured.
Vilks was hosting an event titled “Art, Blasphemy and the Freedom of Expression” at the cafe in northern Copenhagen. The artist has been subjected to numerous attempted attacks and death threats since he depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007. Vilks has told the AP fewer organizations have been inviting him to deliver lectures because of increased security concerns.
Thorning-Schmidt said security officials were deployed to hunt down the gunman, the Wall Street Journal reported. “We face some difficult days when our unity will be tested. But in Denmark, we will never bow to the violence,” she reportedly said.
The French ambassador to Sweden, Francois Zimeray, was in the audience, but he was unharmed during the shooting. Zimeray told AFP shots rang out just as he had finished speaking at the event. “They fired on us from the outside,” Zimeray reportedly said. “It was the same intention as the Charlie Hebdo attack, except they didn’t manage to get in.”
World leaders posted words of support on social media Saturday in light of the attack in Denmark. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted:
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) February 14, 2015
And France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted in French: “Freedom attacked at #Copenhagen. Solidary with the Danes. [French interior minister] is going there. France does not yield. #JeSuisCharlie.”
Last month, Islamic militants killed 12 people while storming the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which frequently had published controversial cartoons on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
Vilks, 68, has faced a string of threats for caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad. Last year, a Pennsylvania woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a plot to kill him, and, in 2010, two brothers were imprisoned for attempting to burn down his house in southern Sweden.
After a separate attack in 2010 at Sweden’s Uppsala University, where a woman charged a dais and hit him in the face, the artist told the AP that he has booby-trapped his own house and sleeps with an ax beside his bed.