COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Police arrested five people on Wednesday suspected of planning a Mumbai-style attack to kill as many people as possible in a building housing a Danish paper that outraged Muslims in 2005 with cartoons of Prophet Mohammad.
Denmark's PET security police said the suspects had planned to enter a Copenhagen office block housing several newspapers including offices of the daily Jyllands-Posten to "kill as many as possible of those around."
PET chief Jakob Scharf said the plot was probably meant to be like a deadly 2008 assault in the Indian city of Mumbai.
"It is our assessment, based on our investigation, that the plans were to try to get access to the location where the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten is situated in Copenhagen and try to carry out a Mumbai-style attack on that location," Scharf said.
"It is our assessment that this is a militant Islamist group and they have links to international terrorist networks," he told a news conference.
Many foreigners, some of India's wealthy business elite as well as poor commuters, were among the 166 people killed by 10 Pakistani gunmen in a three-day coordinated attack through some of Mumbai's landmarks, including two hotels and a Jewish center.
Scharf said authorities could not rule out the possibility that the plotters may be linked to David Headley, a Chicago man who was arrested in October 2009 and pleaded guilty in March this year to scouting targets for the Mumbai attack.
Four of the five suspects were detained at flats in two Copenhagen suburbs, and one in Stockholm, PET said.
In connection with the arrests in Denmark, police found a machine gun with a silencer, ammunition and plastic strips that could be used as handcuffs, PET said. Scharf said that the attack was planned to be carried out by January 1.
Jyllands-Posten was the newspaper that first published the Mohammad cartoons, provoking protests against Danish and European interests in the Middle East, Africa and Asia in which at least 50 people died.
Danish Justice Minister Lars Barfoed said those detained had a "militant Islamic background" and called the plan the most serious such attempt in Denmark so far.
Danish police detained a 44-year-old Tunisian national, a 29-year-old Swedish citizen, born in Lebanon, and a 30-year-old Swedish national, whose country of origin was unknown and a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum applicant, the PET said.
Simultaneously, Swedish authorities in Stockholm detained a 37-year-old Swedish citizen of Tunisian origin, all but the Iraqi were Swedish residents, it said. The suspects will be charged with attempted terrorism, PET said.
The head of Swedish security police SAPO, Anders Danielsson, told the news conference that the Denmark plot did not have any known links to December 11 bomb blasts in Stockholm.
"We have known for ... years that Sweden and the Scandinavian countries have not been safe havens, but countries where we know people have stayed and planned to commit terrorist crimes in other countries," Danielsson told Reuters.
The Nordic region, especially Denmark, attracted the rage of militant Islamists around the world after the 2005 cartoons.
Sketches of the Prophet by Swedish artist Lars Vilks in 2007 sparked similar outrage, but did not prompt immediate violence. Vilks has faced numerous death threats as well as an attempted arson attack on his home.
In Stockholm two weeks ago, a man blew himself up as he was preparing to set off bombs, possibly at a train station or a department store, according to police.
In that case an email -- thought to have come from the bomber -- was sent just before the attack, protesting against Vilks's sketches and Sweden's military presence in Afghanistan.
Both Denmark and Sweden have committed troops to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, while Danish soldiers were also stationed in Iraq after the U.S. invasion.
Police uncovered a plot last year to attack Jyllands-Posten, and in January the creator of the most controversial cartoon escaped an axe attack by a man with al Qaeda links.
Last September, a man who was later found to have a map with the address of Jyllands-Posten's headquarters in the city of Aarhus set off a small explosion in a Copenhagen hotel.
(Writing by Adam Cox and Niklas Pollard; additional reporting by Teis Jensen in Copenhagen, Elinor Schang Olof Swahnberg and Johan Sennero; Editing by Kevin Liffey)