Police foiled an attempt to kill Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that sparked outrage in the Muslim world.

Police foiled an attempt to kill Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that sparked outrage in the Muslim world. (Associated Press)

COPENHAGEN – An ax-wielding Somali man with suspected al-Qaida links was charged Saturday with two counts of attempted murder after breaking into the home of a Danish artist whose Prophet Muhammad cartoon outraged the Muslim world three years ago.

The suspect, who was shot twice by a police officer responding to the scene, was rolled into a Danish court on a stretcher, his face covered. He was ordered held for four weeks on preliminary charges of attempting to murder the cartoonist, as well as the police officer who shot him.

Efforts to protect the artist -- 74-year-old Kurt Westergaard -- were immediately stepped up, as he was moved to an undisclosed location.

The suspect, described by authorities as a 28-year-old Somali with ties to al-Qaida, allegedly broke into the house late Friday armed with an ax and a knife. The house is in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city, 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of Copenhagen.

Jakob Scharf, head of Denmark's PET intelligence agency, said Saturday the man might have attacked spontaneously.

"It seems that he acted alone, and maybe it was a sudden decision," Scharf told Danish broadcaster TV2. He was not immediately available for further comment.

Westergaard, who has been the target of several death threats since depicting the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban, has been under round-the-clock protection by Danish police since February 2008.

When he heard someone trying to break into his home, he pressed an alarm and fled to a specially made safe room. His five-year-old granddaughter who was on a sleep-over, sat on a sofa and saw the suspect trying vainly to get into the bathroom-turned-shelter.

Officers arrived two minutes later and tried to arrest the assailant. He threatened the officers with the ax, and one officer then shot him in the hand and knee, Preben Nielsen of the Aarhus police said.

Nielsen said the man's wounds were serious but not life-threatening.

Westergaard could not be reached for comment, but he told his employer -- the Jyllands-Posten newspaper -- that the assailant shouted "Revenge!" and "Blood!" as he tried to enter the bathroom where Westergaard had sought shelter.

"It was scary. It was close -- really close," he said, according to the newspaper's Web site.

The Somali man, whose name cannot be released because of a court order, was accompanied by a lawyer. He arrived at the court in Aarhus from the hospital where he is being treated, and denied the charges.

"He will be in custody for four weeks, and in isolation for two (of those)," said Chief Superintendent Ole Madsen in Aarhus. He said the suspect would be moved to a prison in Aarhus, which has medical facilities.

Defense lawyer Niels Christian Strauss told reporters outside the court he had urged his client to remain silent to allow more time to examine the evidence.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen called the attack "despicable."

"This is not only an attack on Kurt Westergaard but also an attack on our open society and our democracy," he said in a statement.

In 2005, Jyllands-Posten had asked Danish cartoonists to draw Muhammad as a challenge to a perceived self-censorship. Westergaard and 11 other artists did so. Danish and other Western embassies in several Muslim countries were torched in early 2006 by angry protesters who felt the cartoons had profoundly insulted Islam.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.