Danish court acquits four of aiding 2015 Copenhagen attacker

Copenhagen (AFP) - A Danish court on Tuesday acquitted four Danes accused of aiding a Copenhagen gunman who killed a filmmaker and a Jewish security guard in twin attacks in February 2015.

They had been charged with "terror offences" for allegedly providing support to Danish-Palestinian Omar El-Hussein ahead of the second attack, which took place outside a synagogue.

The four men, Bhostan Hossein, 26, Liban Elmi, 21, Ibrahim Abbas, 23, and Mahmoud Rabea, 32, smiled at each other and their lawyers when the judgement was read aloud.

Danish Justice Minister Soren Pind wrote on Twitter that authorities would "study the verdict and see whether to appeal."

Hossein and Elmi were however convicted of a lesser charge for possessing and disposing of a weapon used in the first attack and sentenced to three and 2.5 years in prison, respectively.

Both had been detained since February 2015 and Elmi was released since time on remand typically gives a "discount" compared to time served for a conviction.

The four risked life imprisonment if found guilty, which in Denmark means they would have been entitled to a parole hearing after 12 years.

"We are surprised that the court has judged the evidence against the accused differently than the prosecution has," the assistant prosecutor in the case, Sidsel Klixbull, said in a statement.

A lawyer for Hossein, Berit Ernst, told AFP she was "very satisfied with the decision."

The case reaches back to February 14, 2015, when Danish-born El-Hussein opened fire with an automatic rifle outside a cultural centre hosting a free speech event.

Filmmaker Finn Norgaard, 55, was killed and three police officers were wounded.

- Question of 'intent' -

Later that night, El-Hussein -- seemingly inspired by the attacks on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo the previous month -- headed to the city's main synagogue, where he shot and killed 37-year-old Jewish security guard Dan Uzan.

El-Hussein, 22, was shot dead by police hours later, having killed two people and wounded five.

The prosecution had argued that the four committed a "terror offence" through their "continuous and close contact" with El-Hussein after the first attack, by providing him with ammunition and a bag used in the second attack, and by paying for his time in an Internet cafe where he located the synagogue.

Surveillance footage showed the men meeting with him in the hours between the two attacks.

Grainy CCTV footage played in court showed Hossein and Elmi meeting with El-Hussein in a park, and the gunman handing Hossein a bag containing the M95 rifle used in the first attack, later found in a nearby ditch.

However, Hossein denied the charge of possessing and disposing of a weapon, claiming El-Hussein handed him the bag and then refused to take it back, while Elmi said he did not know the bag contained a weapon.

The court also viewed video images of El-Hussein, Elmi and Abbas in the cafe after the synagogue shooting.

They were seen talking jokingly, and El-Hussein appeared to act out pulling the trigger of a weapon.

But the prosecution failed to prove "intent", meaning that the four knew about his plans to commit an act of terror, the court found.

Most of their contact with El-Hussein took place before he searched on the internet for his next target, it said.

Released from prison just two weeks before the attacks after serving time for a stabbing, El-Hussein was known for his violent temper and for having ties to a criminal gang.

The prosecution said he pledged allegiance to Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook on the day of the shootings, but investigators said they believed he was not part of a jihadist network.