DANISH 'Muhammad' cartoonist to face attacker in court

He lives under round-the-clock protection and travels in an armored SUV. Bodyguards are posted in a shack outside his home, which is equipped with a panic room that saved him from an ax-wielding intruder.

Washington Examiner — With a few strokes of a pen, Kurt Westergaard’s life changed forever: his drawing of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban has made him a hunted man. This week, the 75-year-old cartoonist faces the man police say tried to kill him on New Year’s Day, 2010, as the Somali’s terror trial gets under way.

“I lead an existence that is full of angst,” Westergaard told The Associated Press in a recent interview. His caricature was considered among the most offensive of the 12 cartoons of Muhammad published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, triggering a firestorm of protests that rippled across the Islamic world four months later.

The angry mobs calmed down after a few weeks, but the Islamist extremists did not; Denmark, Jyllands-Posten and Westergaard became high-profile targets in their jihad.

Authorities feared Westergaard — a tall, bearded man who walks with a cane and speaks in a gravely voice — was at risk of an attack similar to the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was killed by a Muslim fanatic angered by movie the Dutchman made that criticized Islam.

The cartoonist was placed under police protection in February 2008, after police said two Tunisian men plotted to kill him. They were deported without charges.

When the attack finally came, at his home in western Denmark, Westergaard reacted out of instinct, following instructions drilled into him by Danish police.

He didn’t even see the intruder. Upon hearing the glass door facing the garden shatter, he rushed inside the bathroom — reinforced with a metal-plated door to serve as a panic room — and alerted police.

“I thought to myself: Now it’s happening,” Westergaard recalled.

He heard his then 6-year-old granddaughter Stephanie scream from the living room, as the ax-wielding attacker tried to break down the door of the panic room.

“Then the longest minutes of my life started,” Westergaard said. “He hammered the ax against the door and I wondered whether the door would resist. Would he leave Stephanie unharmed?”

The door held. The attacker left the house, and was confronted by police, who pepper-sprayed him, then shot him in the knee as he hurled the ax at an officer, investigators said.

Westergaard and his granddaughter were unharmed.

“I got away. But he’s the real victim, who is likely going to sit behind bars for quite a while and will have enough time to think through what happened,” Westergaard told AP this week about the intruder, a 29-year-old Somali man charged with terrorism and attempted murder.

The defendant, who cannot be named under a court order, denies the charges, his lawyer Niels Christian Straus said. He declined to say what his client was doing at Westergaard’s house, saying he’ll explain it as the trial begins at the city court in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city.

If convicted of terror, the defendant could face life in prison, although such sentences are generally reduced to 16 years under Danish law.

Westergaard’s security was ramped up even further after the break-in. Police temporarily moved him and his wife from their house in Aarhus. He’s now permanently escorted by earpiece-wearing bodyguards from PET, the Danish security service.

They are sure to accompany him to the court hearings, which are expected to draw large crowds. Westergaard is scheduled to testify on Thursday.

He said he was glad that the trial was finally getting started, so he could get on with his life, even though the infamous cartoon will forever be a part of it. “The drawing will follow me into my retirement home and later to my tomb,” Westergaard said.