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Danish 'newspaper-massacre plot' trial begins

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Four men on trial over a suspected plot to murder staff of a Danish newspaper that first published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed have pleaded not guilty.

The men appeared in court on Friday in the Danish capital Copenhagen. The prosecution named them as Sahbi Ben Mohamed Zalouti, Munir Awad and Omar Abdalla Aboelazm, all Swedish citizens of Tunisian, Lebanese and Moroccan origin respectively.

The fourth man, Mounir Ben Mohamed Dhahri, a Tunisian national living in Sweden who pleaded guilty to arms possession, faces charges of "attempted terrorism".

Prosecutors say the four were plotting to "kill a large number of people" at the Jyllands-Posten daily's offices in Copenhagen when they were arrested on December 29, 2010.

Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons in 2005 of the Prophet Mohammed that Muslims believed were insulting, sparking violent and sometimes deadly protests around the world.

The men were in possession of a machine gun with a silencer, a revolver, 108 bullets, reams of duct tape, and $20,000 when they were arrested.

Danish police, who had been collaborating with their Swedish counterparts and had been wiretapping the suspects, arrested them just after hearing them say they were "going to" the newspaper office.

Ceremony 'targeted'

Henrik Plaehn, one of the two prosecutors, told the Glostrup district court that a ceremony celebrating the Sporting Newcomer of the Year at the newspaper was likely the target of the suspected plot.

In addition to a number of sports celebrities, Danish Crown Prince Frederik was present at the ceremony.

"It appears this event was the target," Plaehn said, according to Jyllands-Posten. But he stressed the prosecution did not know if the four accused had known the prince was there, and did not think they had been after him.

Plaehn also said there was evidence linking the plot to Pakistan, but said he would provide more details later in the trial, which is set to last until June.

Sweden's foreign ministry told the AFP news agency last year that one of the men, Munir Awad, had been previously arrested for suspected links to terrorism groups.

Awad was arrested in Somalia by Ethiopian troops in 2007, and again in Pakistan two years later, when he was travelling with his wife, their two-year-old son and Mehdi Ghezali, a Swede who had spent two years at Guantanamo Bay.

Sahbi Ben Mohamed Zalouti had also previously been arrested in Pakistan for entering the country illegally.

The prosecution has not yet said what penalty it will be seeking beyond a request that the four, after serving their sentences, be expelled from Denmark and never allowed to return.

According to public broadcaster DR, they all risked "a historically severe punishment", with up to 14 years behind bars.


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