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The Explosion and Arrest in Copenhagen: Lone Wolf or Plot?

3 MINS READSep 10, 2010 | 21:33 GMT
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Copenhagen police detained a man Sept. 10 after a small explosion in the Hotel Jorgensen in the Danish capital's downtown area. The man fled the scene on foot after the explosion occurred at 12:39 p.m. local time in one of the hotel's bathrooms. He was detained in a nearby park with minor injuries to his face and hands. Little is known at this point about the man's identity, though police have announced he is a foreigner and local media have reported he is believed to be from Belgium or Luxembourg. The Hotel Jorgensen is not a major tourist hotel; it appears to be a small hotel for travelers across from Norreport Station, Copenhagen's largest train station, making it an unlikely target for an attack. Although the suspect's minor injuries could indicate a failed attack, it is more likely that he had an accident while mixing chemicals for or assembling an explosive device. The fact that he was in a bathroom in a small hotel supports this. Many improvised explosive mixtures (such as TATP) are extremely volatile and dangerous to manufacture or handle. Although no current evidence suggests that the suspect was part of a wider plot, the location of the hotel where the suspect was staying and the timing of the incident — so close to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States — raises the question of whether the incident in Copenhagen is a lone wolf event or an indication of a wider plot in Denmark or even further abroad. The hotel's proximity to Copenhagen's largest commuter and regional train station suggests that the station was the actual target. Although security at European train stations has significantly improved since the 2004 Madrid bombing, securing all of Europe's train infrastructure remains difficult. The heavy reliance on train transportation in Western Europe makes it impossible to ensure the same level of security at myriad train stations across the continent that is achieved at airports, which concentrate and funnel travelers to a relatively manageable number of departure points. That said, the possibility that the Copenhagen explosion was part of a wider plot is nothing but conjecture based on the unclear circumstances of the incident. The suspect could very well have been a lone wolf or part of a small grassroots plot. If he did indeed have a passport from Belgium or Luxembourg, he would fit a grassroots profile. However, the specifics of the case (and past instances in which jihadists have planned or conducted coordinated simultaneous attacks in different places) do raise the remote possibility that the explosion was a fumbled part of a coordinated attack meant to occur on the Sept. 11 anniversary.

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