A Danish court sentenced four men to 12 years behind bars for committing 'terrorism' with a plot to kill the staff of a newspaper that first published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
The three Swedish nationals and one Tunisian living in Sweden had pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges, but in a unanimous verdict a district court convicted all four.
However, Sahbi Ben Mohamed Zalouti, Munir Awad and Omar Abdalla Aboelazm -- Swedish citizens of Tunisian, Lebanese and Moroccan origin, respectively -- and Tunisian national Mounir Ben Mohamed Dhahri were found not guilty of a secondary charge of weapons possession due to a technicality, chief judge Katrine Eriksen said.
Prosecutors had charged that the four planned to "kill a large number of people" at the offices of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen when they were arrested on December 29, 2010.
The daily paper in 2005 published a dozen cartoons of Islam's founding prophet that triggered violent and sometimes deadly protests around the world.
Prosecutors had asked that the four, aged 31 to 46, be sentenced to between 14 and 16 years in prison -- which would have been a historically severe sentence in this kind of case in Denmark.
Prosecutor Gyrithe Ulrich insisted to Jyllands-Posten on Monday that "this case is different from other cases and should result in a stricter penalty.
"They were close to carrying out (the attack). This was not just initial preparations as we have seen in other cases," she said. "In this case we were very close."
But the court in the Copenhagen suburb of Glostrup opted instead Monday to hand the four 12 years behind bars, on a par with two other sentences handed down to date in cases involving terrorism plots.
Both sides have 14 days to appeal the verdict and sentencing.
"We are very satisfied with the result of 12 years," Ulrich said after the sentencing, adding that she had yet to decide whether to appeal.
A machinegun with a silencer, a revolver, 108 bullets, 200 plastic handcuff strips and $20,000 (16,000 euros) were among the items found in the men's possession when they were arrested after three of them drove to the Danish capital from Sweden.
Awad, Aboelazm and Dhahri were all arrested in a Copenhagen suburb, while Zalouti, who had gotten out of the car before it got to Denmark, was arrested near Stockholm the same day.
Zalouti's lawyer Kaare Traberg Smidt lamented to reporters after the sentencing that the penalty was "very harsh."
"It was a surprise for both me and my client," he said, stressing that it was unfair that his client had received the same sentence as the other three who had gone all the way to Copenhagen.
"It's hard knowing that you got out of it the evening before and then to be given the same (sentence) as the others," he said, without saying whether he planned to appeal.
Danish police, who had been collaborating with their Swedish counterparts and had been wiretapping the men, said they swooped on them just after hearing them say they were going to the Jyllands-Posten office building, which also houses Denmark's paper of reference, Politiken.
"The court finds it proven that the purpose of the trip to Copenhagen was an action against Jyllandsposten/Politiken in Copenhagen which ... was intended to kill people," the court said in its verdict.
The four all adamantly denied the terrorism charge, but Dhahri pleaded guilty to arms possession.
Prosecutors said during the trial that the target of the suspected plot was likely an award ceremony celebrating the "Sporting Newcomer of the Year" at the Jyllands-Posten building.
In addition to a number of sports celebrities, Danish Crown Prince Frederik was present at the ceremony, but prosecutors said the four did not appear to have known he was there and that he was probably not their target.
Jyllands-Posten has been the target of a string of attempted and plotted attacks, and remains a top target for Islamic extremists, Danish intelligence service PET said in late January.