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Denmark Tries to Act Against Terrorism as Mood in Europe Shifts

Said Mansour, 45, a Moroccan-born Danish citizen, could become the first person charged under a new law that forbids instigation of terrorism or offering advice to terrorists.
Said Mansour, 45, a Moroccan-born Danish citizen, could become the first person charged under a new law that forbids instigation of terrorism or offering advice to terrorists. (By Kevin Sullivan -- The Washington Post)

"They have crossed the line," said Naser Khader, 42, a Syrian-born member of Parliament who has been a vocal critic of Muslim extremists. "The society must be open and free. If you close it and make a lot of restrictions, the terrorists get what they want."

But a recent survey found that 80 percent of Danes supported the new laws to battle terrorism and control immigration. In Britain, 73 percent of people polled by the Guardian newspaper in mid-August said that they were willing to give up some civil liberties to improve security.

"The terror is getting closer," said Morten Messerschmidt, a member of Parliament from the strongly anti-immigration Danish People's Party. "First it was D.C. and New York, then Madrid and now London. Who's next? There's no doubt we are in a potential threat situation, and that scares people."

Messerschmidt said curbing free speech was "very tough and emotional to do in England or Denmark or any other country that respects freedom, but it's out of necessity." He said a terror attack in Denmark was inevitable. "You'd have to live in a fantasy world to think it won't happen here."

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen ordered a review of national laws governing security and civil liberties immediately after the London bombings. "We must not have a police state and a surveillance society," he said in a recent radio broadcast. "But we must not be overindulgent either."

Many European countries have long had laws banning racist hate speech, an outgrowth of their experiences with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. But analysts said Denmark's new speech law, part of a package of anti-terror laws enacted in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was at the forefront of tougher European laws. The law banning instigation of terrorism carries a penalty of up to six years in prison.

Denmark's anti-terror laws also ban financing of radical groups and give police new powers to electronically eavesdrop on suspected radicals. Danish intelligence officers have also increased what Hans Jorgen Bonnichsen, commander of the Danish Security Intelligence Service, called "preventive talks" with potential radicals.

In an interview, Bonnichsen said his officers conduct close surveillance of suspected radicals and occasionally let them know they are being watched in order to disrupt their activities. He said intelligence officers work closely with Danish universities to monitor foreign-born students and watch for suspicious activity.

"Three years ago, people thought it was terrifying what Denmark was doing," said Hvilshoj, the immigration affairs minister. But with the shifting mood in Europe, she said, "that has changed. People are looking at Denmark differently."

In Denmark, as in much of Europe, fears of terrorism are often intertwined with concerns about immigration, particularly the immigration of Muslims. There are about 15 million Muslims living in the 25 countries of the European Union. Roughly 200,000 of Denmark's 5.4 million people are Muslim.

Rasmussen's right-leaning government was elected in November 2001, riding a wave of popular anger about rising immigration. Nearly overnight, the government reversed Denmark's generous immigration policies, tightening requirements for asylum-seekers and for foreign residents trying to bring in spouses.

Many Muslims in Demark see racist motives in the government's policies.

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