Copenhagen, Paris: Europe Has Failed Its Jewish Citizens Again

The gunman who killed two and wounded five in the Danish capital seemed to have at least some military training.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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A police officer guards the street around the Noerrebro train station in Copenhagen on February 15, 2015 where a man has been shot by cops following two fatal attacks.
A police officer guards the street around the Noerrebro train station in Copenhagen on February 15, 2015 where a man has been shot by cops following two fatal attacks.Credit: AFP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The pattern that has been established last month in Paris and over the past 24 hours in Copenhagen is now chillingly clear: Journalists and especially cartoonists who have in the past published images of the Prophet Mohammed are at mortal risk in Europe – and so are local Jewish communities.

The planned assassination of the Charlie Hebdo staff was followed two days later by the hostage-taking and murder of four Jews at the Hyper Cacher grocery. This time it took only ten hours after a shooting at an event attended by Swedish artist Lars Vilks for another attack to take place outside Copenhagen's main synagogue. The attacks claimed the lives of two people and wounded five.

Despite the lack of clear evidence, it doesn't take a wild leap of faith to assume that the two shootings in the Danish capital are linked and were most likely carried out by the same group or lone perpetrator – perhaps the man shot dead by police early on Sunday morning. For a certain kind of murderer, these are the obvious victims – specific journalists and artists seen to be disparaging the symbols of Islam, and "random" Jews. It takes some level of sophistication and intelligence-gathering to locate the first type of target; for the second, simply head to the nearest synagogue or kosher store.

At this early stage the main questions are obvious. A gunman with weapons who was not deterred by the presence of police at both targets was at large in a major European city, most likely planning this a while in advance. He successfully got away from two crime scenes which were known targets. Was he working on his own? How did he evade detection by the security and intelligence services during the planning stage? Was there sufficient security around the Krudttønden art café despite the fact that Vilks, a man who repeatedly received death threats, was scheduled to appear? To what level had security around the synagogue been raised following the first shooting?

There were police and security staff around both the café and the synagogue – the gunman succeeded in both places to kill civilians and wound officers, escaping unscathed. This is the hallmark of a man with at least some degree of military training and experience under fire. Once again, as in the previous attacks in France and Belgium, the challenge of tracking local citizens who have travelled to the Middle East to fight for Jihadist groups such as Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) will be raised here. Little Denmark has the second-highest proportion of homegrown Jihadists in Western Europe (after Belgium), with at least a hundred such volunteers going off to fight in Syria and Iraq over the past three years. It has pursued a controversial path of trying to reintegrate these young radicalized men into Danish society rather than indicting them. The wisdom of that scheme will be questioned now if it transpires that the murderer was indeed one of those returned fighters.

And while the questions faced by Danish and European security services have remained the same for the past few years, the dilemmas facing the continent's Jewish communities are starker than ever. How should they continue living an open and free Jewish life under continuous threat?

There should be no question of canceling, postponing or hiding away festivals and family celebrations. The bat mitzvah party which was chosen as the murderer's target on Saturday night must not have been allowed to serve as anything else other than a 12-year-old's joyous rite of passage to womanhood. Why should she or her family and friends have to feel that there is any bravery involved in celebrating their Simcha? Why should an unarmed member of her community be in the line of fire outside the synagogue? What will the next bat or bar mitzvah, brit or wedding in Copenhagen look like? Will the guests have to pass through metal detectors and celebrate behind a police cordon? How long should a community remain in such conditions and what is an acceptable threat level?

What happened on Saturday night was not a failure of the Jews and it certainly has nothing to do with Israel, whatever the country's critics or champions will have to say over the next few days. If indeed a Danish citizen decided to take the lives of other Danish citizens simply because they were Jews or because he didn't like the way they drew his prophet, then it was the duty of the Danish government to prevent these murders, and educate and integrate all its citizens accordingly. Denmark has failed its Jewish citizens and its entire society. Europe has once again failed.

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