COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Denmark’s intelligence service early Tuesday arrested eight Islamic militants linked to leading al-Qaida figures, 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 and were arrested after police gathered enough evidence against them, he said.
“They also have been producing an unstable explosive in a densely populated area,” Scharf said.
He said Danish investigators had worked with “several foreign cooperation partners” in the probe before they rounded up the suspects, ages 19 to 29.
“Those arrested are militant Islamists with connections to leading al-Qaida persons,” Scharf said without naming those people. “According to our assessment, there is a direct connection to al-Qaida.”
The suspects — of Afghan, Pakistani, Somali and Turkish origin — were arrested without incident, Scharf told reporters. He declined to say whether more people were being sought. Eleven locations were raided in and around Copenhagen, including the Ishoej suburb and the Noerrebro district of the capital.
The TV2 News channel reported 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, a police anti-terror unit used a ram to break open 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 , told The Associated Press.
Sadie al-Fatlawi, who lives on the floor above the cab driver in Noerrebro, said police ordered him and other neighbors to leave the building during the raid because it was dangerous to remain inside.
“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,” al-Fatlawi told The Associated Press.
The taxi driver was of Pakistani origin and had recently moved in to the building, al-Fatlawi said.
Danish public radio DR identified a third suspect as a man of Afghani origin who had grown a beard and wore traditional Afghani clothing. He lived with parents and his two sisters in Avedoere, another suburb south of the capital, DR said, citing neighbors.
The Danish Emergency Management Agency said its chemical unit had assisted the police, but did not give details.
It was the third time Danish police cracked down on suspected terrorist networks since 2005.
The trial of four men suspected of planning to blow up a target in Denmark or Europe is to begin in Copenhagen on Wednesday.
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 other defendants were acquitted, although one is awaiting a retrial.
Terrorists have not hit Denmark in more than two decades, but the July 2005 bombings in London stirred 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.