Denmark’s diplomatic relationship with Turkey may be severely strained after reports that the man behind an attempted assassination of Islam critic Lars Hedegaard has been released from a Turkish prison.
Copenhagen Police said on Sunday that they were aware of reports that the 27-year-old suspect, ‘BH’, had been released by Turkish authorities.
“A week ago, we learned through speaking with a member of the suspect’s family that the suspect – much to our astonishment and regret – had been released,” Copenhagen Police spokesman Jens Møller Jensen said in a press release.
Jensen added that the police have “not yet definitely confirmed the information with the Turkish authorities”.
However, the suspect’s Danish lawyer has also confirmed that his client was released.
Several Danish media outlets have reported that Hedegaard's would-be assassin was part of a prisoner exchange between Turkey and the terrorist group Isis, but that has not been confirmed.
According to The Times, Turkey released 180 jihadists in exchange for the return of 49 Turkish diplomats. Politiken reports that it has seen The Times’ list of the jihadists involved in the exchange and that BH’s name is not included. The paper stresses however that it is unknown if the list is exhaustive.
Even if BH was not handed over to Isis, his release could create a serious rift between Denmark and Turkey.
“A few years back, Turkey ratified the European Council’s convention on extradition and because of that they are obligated to extradite to Denmark in cases involving serious crimes. So this current instance could mean that Turkey isn’t living up to international obligations and those kinds of cases are taken very seriously,” Jørn Vestergaard, a law professor at the University of Copenhagen, told Politiken.
Hedegaard is a former journalist who is now a well-known debater and free speech advocate. He is also a very vocal critic of Islam, and anti-Islamic comments, including the insinuation that Muslim men rape their female family members, led to a high-profile legal battle that ultimately resulted in the Supreme Court overturning an earlier conviction and unanimously clearing Hedegaard of racism charges in 2012.
In February 2013, a man posing as a postal employee came to Hedegaard’s home in Frederiksberg and said he needed a signature for the delivery of a package. When Hedegaard opened his door, the phony postal employee drew a gun and fired a shot that missed its target. The man’s gun then jammed and Hedegaard and his assailant tangled until the man took off running. The man, who is a Danish citizen with a Middle Eastern background, was arrested in April 2014 in Turkey.
On February 5th, 2013, Lars Hedegaard opened his front door and was shot at by a would-be assassin. Photo: Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix
Hedegaard, who recently spoke to The Local about his controversial decision to sell Swedish artist Dan Park’s artwork, said he “had no doubt at all” that the assassination attempt was due to his criticism of Islam.
“I have no doubt at all, but I’d be interested in hearing his explanation. I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me. I’ve had no dealings with him, I haven’t stolen his money or screwed his wife - so what would his motivation then be?” he told The Local.
Hedegaard criticised both Turkey for the release and the Danish authorities for waiting more than a week to tell him about it.
He also said that he has always felt that BH did not act alone and now fears that someone else will try to pick up where BH left off.
“At the time he tried to shoot me, he was a member of a Muslim terror group, just as he is today. I don’t think he will come back to Denmark, because now we know who he is. But there will presumably be another one, who is either already here in the country who will come here to finish the job,” he told Ritzau.
Hedegaard added that the release wouldn’t cause him to stop speaking out against Islam.
“If the hope is that I will keep my mouth shut, then it is completely futile. On the contrary. I intend to speak my mind until I die,” he told Ritzau.