Denmark braced for terror trial against 4 Swedes

Four Swedes accused of plotting a revenge attack on a newspaper that printed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad will go on trial Friday in Denmark, forcing the normally placid Nordic country to revisit an event it would rather put to rest.

The four men — all Swedish residents — are charged with terrorism after allegedly planning an armed attack inside the Copenhagen-based offices of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published 12 cartoons of the prophet in 2005, sparking riots in Muslim countries and calls for revenge.

Swedish and Danish intelligence officials said they had followed the men for months and tailed their rental car from Stockholm before arresting three of them — Munir Awad, Omar Abdalla Aboelazm and Mounir Ben Mohamed Dhahri — in December 2010 at an apartment near the Danish capital. The fourth, Sabhi Ben Mohamed Zalouti, left the car and returned to Stockholm, were he was arrested the same day as the others.

The men are also charged with possession of illegal weapons.

Prosecutors have described the four as Islamic militants who wanted to frighten Danish society with a shooting spree.

The men have not responded to the charges but are expected to as the trial opens.

If found guilty of terrorism charges, the four men could face 16 years in prison, while prosecutors say they will ask that the men be expelled from Denmark after serving the sentence.

The trial will be the second major criminal process involving the controversial cartoons over the past year.

Early in 2011 a Danish court declared a Somali man guilty of terrorism for breaking into the home of a Danish cartoonist who had caricatured the Prophet. Wielding an ax, the man entered Kurt Westergaard's home in the northwestern town of Aarhus, though the cartoonist managed to avoid injury by locking himself inside a panic room.

The Somali man was eventually sentenced to nine years in prison.

For Danes, Friday's trial will be the latest unpleasant reminder of the seven-year-old caricature debacle, which pitted voices of free speech and press against those advocating rigid respect for other people's faith.

"It's a pity that this old story about the cartoons will again be highlighted. I personally think Denmark would like to forget this recent episode in our history," said Mette Petersen, 26, a graduate student.

Still, observers say the trial will have little effect on the perception of Denmark or the country's relations.

"I don't think this trial will have the same international impact in the Middle East as maybe it would have had five years ago," said Professor Peter Seeberg, head of Middle East studies at the University of Southern Denmark. "Thankfully, the cartoon crisis is no longer an inflammatory issue, and when I travel to the Middle East now it is hardly ever mentioned,"

The trial is expected to last two months, with a verdict expected in mid-June.