COPENHAGEN – Gunmen fired on a cafe in Copenhagen as it hosted a free speech event Saturday, killing one man, Danish police said. The event was organized by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has faced numerous threats after caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad.
Danish police said the gunmen shot through the windows of the Krudttoenden cafe, which the TV2 news channel said were riddled with some 30 bullet holes. Police spokesman Henrik Blandebjerg said three police colleagues at the event were also shot and wounded.
The attack came a month after Islamic militants attacked another media outlet that had printed Muhammad cartoons, the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris, killing 12 people.
Helle Merete Brix, one of the event’s organizers, told The Associated Press that Vilks was at the free speech event Saturday but was not hit.
“I saw a masked man running past,” Brix said. “I clearly consider this as an attack on Lars Vilks.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Danish police, in a statement, said they were looking for the perpetrators who drove away in a dark Volkswagen Polo after the shooting, which took place shortly before 4 p.m. (1500 GMT, 10 a.m. EST).
“I heard someone firing with an automatic weapons and someone shouting. Police returned the fire and I hid behind the bar. I felt surreal, like in a movie,” Niels Ivar Larsen, one of the speakers at the event, told the TV2 channel.
Brix said she was ushered away with Vilks by one of the Danish police guards that he gets whenever he is in Denmark.
In a statement, Danish police said the victim was a 40-year-old man inside the cafe attending the event. He has not yet been identified.
The cafe in northern Copenhagen, known for its jazz concerts, was hosting an event titled “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression” when the shots were fired.
Francois Zimeray, the French ambassador to Denmark who was at the conference to speak about the deadly Charlie Hebdo attack, tweeted that he was “still alive.”
In a statement, French President Francois Hollande called the Copenhagen shooting “deplorable” and said Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt would have the “full solidarity of France in this trial.”
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was travelling to Copenhagen as soon as possible.
Vilks, a 68-year-old Swedish artist, has faced several attempted attacks and death threats after he depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007.
A Pennsylvania woman last year got a 10-year prison term for a plot to kill Vilks. In 2010, two brothers tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden and were imprisoned for attempted arson.
Vilks told The Associated Press after the Paris terror attacks that, due to increased security concerns, even fewer organizations were inviting him to give lectures. He also said he thought Sweden’s SAPO security service, which deploys bodyguards to protect him, would step up his security.
“This will create fear among people on a whole different level than we’re used to,” he said. “Charlie Hebdo was a small oasis. Not many dared do what they did.”
The depiction of the prophet is deemed insulting to many followers of Islam. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad _ even a respectful one _ is considered blasphemous.
While many Muslims expressed disgust at the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, many were also deeply offended by the magazine’s cartoons lampooning Muhammad.