Danish intelligence agents early Tuesday arrested eight alleged Islamic militants with links to Al Qaeda and said the suspects were plotting an attack involving explosives.
"With the arrests, we have prevented a terror attack," said Jakob Scharf, head of the PET intelligence service. He did not identify the target.
The suspects - six Danish citizens and two foreigners with residence permits - had been under surveillance for some time when they were arrested, he said. He identified them as "militant Islamists with connections to leading Al Qaeda persons," adding, "According to our assessment, there is a direct connection to Al Qaeda."
Terrorists have not hit Denmark in more than two decades, but the July 2005 bombings in London created fears that the Scandinavian country could be targeted for its participation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Those fears grew after a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, triggering fiery protests in Muslim countries in early 2006. Many Muslims considered the drawings blasphemous.
In June, Denmark pulled out its 460-member army contingent from Iraq and replaced it with a small air force squad.
Scharf said the planned attack did not appear linked to the cartoons or Denmark's involvement in Iraq.
But terror experts suspected a link.
"Denmark is on the extremists' radar screen for a number of different reasons - the first one of course being the controversial Iraq engagement," said Magnus Ranstorp, terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defence College.
Ranstorp said that a crackdown on asylum seekers since 2001 and the cartoon crisis had further aggravated Denmark's exposure.
The suspects, ages 19 to 29, were not identified. All eight were arrested without incident in predawn raids on 11 locations in and around Copenhagen, including the Ishoej suburb and the Noerrebro district of the capital, the authorities said.
The suspects are of Afghan, Pakistani, Somali and Turkish origin, Scharf told reporters. He said Danish investigators had worked with "several foreign cooperation partners" before making the arrests.
The TV2 News channel reported that a 19-year-old electrician was arrested in Ishoej, while a taxi driver in his early 20s was arrested in Noerrebro. TV footage shot from a helicopter showed bomb squads and forensics agents at those locations.
In Ishoej, the anti-terror police broke down the door of the apartment where a Turkish family was living, according to Karina Elbaek, who lives on the floor below. "They were ordinary neighbors, really friendly, helpful and extroverted," Elbaek said of the family.
Sadie al-Fatlawi, who lives on the floor above the cab driver in Noerrebro, said that the police had ordered him and other neighbors to leave the building during the raid.
"When we came down to the police van they said that they suspected that there were some explosives in the property, or something that could burn very violently," Fatlawi said.
The taxi driver was of Pakistani origin and had recently moved into the building, Fatlawi said.
Danish public radio DR identified a third suspect as a man of Afghan origin who had grown a beard and wore traditional Afghan clothing. He lived with his parents and his two sisters in Avedoere, another suburb south of the capital, DR said, citing neighbors.
It is the third time the Danish police have cracked down on suspected terrorist networks since 2005.
A separate trial of four men suspected of planning to blow up a target in Denmark or elsewhere in Europe is to begin Wednesday in Copenhagen.
In February, a court sentenced Abdul Basit Abu Lifa, a Danish citizen of Palestinian descent, to seven years in prison for his involvement in a Bosnia-linked plot to blow up a target in Europe. Three others were acquitted, although one is awaiting a retrial.
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