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Police kill gunman near Copenhagen train station after deadly attacks

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Police in Copenhagen say they have shot and killed a man who shot at them near a train station and are investigating whether he can be linked to two shootings hours earlier at a free speech event and near a synagogue.

In a statement, Copenhagen police said investigators had been conducting surveillance near the train station around 5 o'clock Sunday morning when a man started shooting at officers. They returned fire, hitting and killing him. None of the officers were hurt.

The two earlier shootings left two dead and five police officers wounded, stirring fears that another terror spree was underway in a European capital a month after 17 people were killed in Paris. Police wouldn't confirm whether the two Copenhagen incidents were connected. In both cases, the gunman escaped.

Deadly Copenhagen shooting treated as terror attack

The first shooting happened shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday. Danish police said the gunman used an automatic weapon to shoot through the windows of the Krudttoenden cultural center during a panel discussion on freedom of expression following the Paris attacks.

A 55-year-old man attending the event was killed, while three police officers were wounded. Two belonged to the Danish security service PET, which said the circumstances surrounding the shooting "indicate that we are talking about a terror attack."

The gunman then fled in a carjacked Volkswagen Polo that was found later a few miles away, police said.

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks walks in the streets of Stockholm March 11, 2010.
Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks walks in the streets of Stockholm March 11, 2010. Francois Campredon/AFP/Getty Images

Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who has faced numerous death threats for caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad, was one of the main speakers at the event, titled "Art, blasphemy and freedom of expression." He was whisked away by his bodyguards unharmed as the shooting began.

Vilks, 68, later told The Associated Press he believed he was the intended target of the shooting.

"What other motive could there be? It's possible it was inspired by Charlie Hebdo," he said, referring to the Jan. 7 attack by Islamic extremists on the French newspaper that had angered Muslims by lampooning Muhammad.

Police spokesman Joergen Skov said it was possible the gunman had planned the "same scenario" as in the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

After searching for the first gunman for hours, police reported the second shooting in downtown Copenhagen after midnight Sunday. Wadsworth-Hansen said that gunman opened fire at two police officers outside the synagogue. They were wounded in the arms and legs but were not in life-threatening condition, while a civilian man was killed. The gunman fled on foot.

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Police officers take cover behind their patrol cars on the streets of central Copenhagen on February 15, 2015 after one person was shot in the head and two policemen were shot in the arm and leg in Krystalgade, a street that is home to Copenhagen's main synagogue. MARTIN SYLVEST/AFP/Getty Images

Sebastian Zepeda, a 19-year-old visitor from London, said he didn't want to leave his hotel room after hearing of the first shooting and was text messaging with his mother when the second shooting happened on the street below.

"I was on my bed and I heard gunshots. And my heart raced," Zepeda said. "All of a sudden the road was packed with police."

Witnesses in a bar across the street from the synagogue said they saw special police teams moving in with automatic rifles.

"We looked out the window and saw this guy lying on the street," said Rasmus Thau Riddersholm, 33. "We were told by police to stay in the back of the room, away from the windows and doors."

Police initially said there were two gunmen at the cultural center but later said they believed there was only one shooter. They described him as 25 to 30 years old with an athletic build and carrying a black automatic weapon. They released a blurred photograph of the suspect wearing dark clothes and a scarf covering part of his face.

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Police presence is seen next to damaged glass at the site of a deadly shooting in Copenhagen, Denmark, Feb. 14, 2015, with an inset picture of the suspect released by Copenhagen police. MATHIAS OEGENDAL/SCANPIX DENMARK/COPENHAGEN POLICE HANDOUT

"I saw a masked man running past," said Helle Merete Brix, one of the event's organizers. "I clearly consider this as an attack on Lars Vilks."

Niels Ivar Larsen, one of the speakers at the event, told the TV2 channel he heard someone shouting and firing automatic weapons. "Police returned the fire and I hid behind the bar. I felt surreal, like in a movie," Larsen said.

Visiting the scene of the first shooting, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called it a "political attack and therefore an act of terror."

François Zimeray, the French ambassador to Denmark who was at the event to speak about the Charlie Hebdo attack, tweeted that he was "still alive." Police said he was not wounded.

French President Francois Hollande called the Copenhagen shooting "deplorable" and said Thorning-Schmidt would have the "full solidarity of France in this trial." French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was arriving Sunday in Copenhagen.

Leaders across Europe condemned the violence and expressed support for Denmark. Sweden's security service said it was sharing information with its Danish counterpart, while U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said U.S. officials were ready to help with the investigation and have been in touch with their Danish counterparts.

Denis McDonough on Copenhagen attack: "We abhor this"

In an interview to be broadcast Sunday on "Face The Nation," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said, "We abhor this and will not let these kinds of attacks stand."

"We're scheduling a summit late in the week... a three-day summit at the State Department on countering violent extremism," McDonough said. "Because we know AQAP, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has plans to do things like this around the world. So we have to make sure that we're staying one step ahead of them."

Vilks has faced several attempted attacks and death threats after he depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007. A Pennsylvania woman last year got a 10-year prison term for a plot to kill Vilks. In 2010, two brothers tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden and were imprisoned for attempted arson.

Vilks told the AP after the Paris terror attacks that, due to increased security concerns, even fewer organizations were inviting him to give lectures.

The depiction of the prophet is deemed insulting to many followers of Islam. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad -- even a respectful one -- is considered blasphemous.

While many Muslims have expressed disgust at the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo employees, many were also deeply offended by its cartoons lampooning Muhammad.

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