COPENHAGEN - Eight men with alleged links to leading senior Al Qaeda terrorists were arrested in the heart of Denmark yesterday, according to the country's intelligence service, which said it had thwarted a bomb plot.
The predawn raids sent jitters through a country that stirred Muslim anger and deadly protests last year after a newspaper printed 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
"This could indicate that [Al Qaeda] now is able to pick up the phone and order a terror act in Denmark," said Hans Joergen Bonnichsen, who retired as operative head of the PET intelligence service in 2006.
However, Jakob Scharf, head of the PET, said the foiled terror plot was not connected to either the uproar over the prophet cartoons or Denmark's involvement in the US-led coalition in Iraq.
The suspects - six Danish citizens and two foreigners with residence permits - had been under surveillance for some time when they were arrested.
"With the arrests, we have prevented a terror attack," Scharf said in Copenhagen. He did not identify the target.
The suspects, aged 19 to 29, were not identified but Scharf described them as "militant Islamists with connections to leading Al Qaeda persons."
All eight were arrested without incident in raids on 11 locations in and around Copenhagen, including the Ishoej suburb and the Noerrebro district of the capital, authorities said.
The suspects are of Afghan, Pakistani, Somali, and Turkish origin, Scharf said. He said Danish investigators had worked with "several foreign cooperation partners" before making the arrests.
Two of the suspects, both 21, were arraigned in court later yesterday on preliminary charges of acquiring material to make one or more bombs for terror attacks in Denmark or abroad.
The court ordered both held in custody for 27 days - the first 13 days in solitary confinement - while investigators continue the probe. It was not immediately clear when the six others would be arraigned.
The TV2 News channel reported that 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, antiterror police broke down the door of the apartment where a Turkish family was living, said Karina Elbaek, who lives on the floor below.
"They were ordinary neighbors, really friendly, helpful and extroverted," Elbaek said.
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.
The taxi driver was of Pakistani origin and had recently moved into the building, Fatlawi said.
Danish public radio DR identified a third suspect as a man of Afghan origin who had grown a beard and wore traditional Afghan clothing. He lived with parents and his two sisters in Avedoere, another suburb south of the capital, DR said, citing neighbors.