Hundreds Attend Funeral of Copenhagen Gunman

Omar El-Hussein funeral
Mourners surround the hearse with Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein's body as it leaves the mosque on Dortheavej in Copenhagen, enroute to the Muslim cemetery in Broendby REUTERS/Nils Meilvang/Scanpix

Around 700 to 1,000 mourners attended the funeral of the gunman who shot dead two and injured five others in the Danish capital earlier this month, prompting concern and anger among Danes and Danish Jews.

Omar El-Hussein was shot dead by police after firing shots into a cafe where a debate on free speech was taking place, killing a filmmaker, and then driving to Copenhagen's main synagogue and shooting dead a volunteer bodyguard.

The ceremony took place at the Islamic Society of Denmark in Copenhagen following Friday prayers and was followed by the burial outside the city at a Muslim cemetery in the suburb of Brøndby, despite initial objections from the Islamic Society that owns it.

"My concern is over extremist attitudes and actions on both sides," Ahmet Deniz, head of the Islamic Burial Fund's support group told Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. "Both from his friends and from young Danish people who perhaps could also riot later."

The funeral was open to the public, although witnesses described the attendees to local Danish media as mostly Muslim young men, with many "wearing large black coats, having covered their faces". The Copenhagen Police sent a press release before the event urging attendees to show due respect.

Finn Rudaizky, the former chairman of Denmark's Jewish Congregation and now a member of The Copenhagen Council and the Danish People's Party, expressed his concern and anger over the strong showing at El-Hussein's funeral, saying: "You cannot consider all of them to be potential criminals, but it is worrying to see so many people showing sympathy for a terrorist. It is a signal to the authorities and the population that the crime of the two people killed was not just a single person's work. There is a movement and we have to defeat it. It is not nice to see 700 people honouring a murderer."

"I find it very worrying," says Søren Espersen, deputy chairman of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party. "I expected the man's parents and family to attend but I never expected these sort of numbers, because that could indicate that many people who attended also think like El-Hussein. It is very sad to see that so many attended, and I have heard that some of them were very hostile towards the press, telling them they had no right to be there. It would have been more dignified if it had just been the family who attended."

But Imran Shah, spokesman for the Islamic Society in Denmark, denied that the high numbers present at the funeral were supporters of El-Hussein, but said instead that they were there because the timing of the police releasing the body on Friday morning coincided with the throngs already at the mosque attending Friday prayers. "The majority of the people were there for Friday prayers, and also to seek God's forgiveness for this man who has committed such an atrocious attack and taken two innocent lives. The family asked the mosque to conduct this funeral. Why should the family be punished for what their son did? They are heartbroken."

Shah claims that only five or six people there sympathised with El-Hussein or were hostile to the press. While he says he is not worried about El-Hussein's grave becoming a shrine for supporters, he says he is worried about right-wing extremists vandalising the site, or indeed the mosque, as they have done before.

According to Esperson, the main Copenhagen synagogue and the Jewish Caroline School in the city are now heavily guarded because of the attack, but he says he is particularly worried about Jewish schoolchildren in light of the recent violence. "The violence against Jews is becoming more severe in this country, and I do believe it should be taken more seriously," he says. "Not enough is being done." The school now resembles Fort Knox, according to Espersen, but even with the added security, three parents have decided to remove their children from the school for fear of another terror attack.

Espersen also lashed out at some of the mosques in Denmark where he said hate preaching is taking place, particularly the notorious Grimhoj Mosque in western Denmark. Last September, the imam there, Abu Bilal Ismail, openly declared his support for the Islamic State group in a video.

Of the 130 jihadists that have travelled to fight for Islamic State from Denmark, over half had worshipped there, according to Espersen. He believes the imam should be expelled from the country.

Support for his party has remained constant in the wake of the attacks and the party retains its anti-immigration party line. "The party has always been against immigration. Immigration has been too rapid and made integration impossible. If there were no Muslims in the country there would be no Muslim terror, it goes without saying."