(CNN) -- Danish authorities said Tuesday they have arrested three people who allegedly were plotting a "terror-related assassination" of a cartoonist whose drawing of the Prophet Mohammed sparked rage in the Muslim world two years ago.
The cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed provoked widespread outrage in the Muslim world two years ago.
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service said police arrested a 40-year-old Dane of Moroccan origin and two Tunisians. The Danish citizen is charged with a terrorism offense, the intelligence service said, and the Tunisians will be deported. Police have not yet released the names of the three.
The operation took place in the Aarhus area of western Denmark at 4:30 a.m. local time following lengthy surveillance, the intelligence service said.
The target of the plot, the intelligence service said, was the cartoonist for the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jullands-Posten, which first published the controversial drawings in September 2005. The paper identified the cartoonist as Kurt Westergaard. Watch how threats have targeted cartoonists »
"Not wanting to take any undue risks [the intelligence service] has decided to intervene at a very early stage in order to interrupt the planning and the actual assassination," the statement by Jakob Scharf, the agency's director general, said. "Thus, this morning's operation must first and foremost be seen as a preventive measure where the aim has been to stop a crime from being committed."
The uproar over the cartoons ignited after the Danish newspaper published caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammed. Some Muslims believe it is forbidden by the Quran to show an image of the prophet.
Demonstrations erupted across the world in early 2006 after other newspapers reprinted the images months later as a matter of free speech. Some turned deadly.
Many protesters directed their ire at Denmark, prompting the closure of several Danish embassies in predominantly Muslim countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan.
Westergaard's cartoon depicted the prophet wearing a bomb as a turban with a lit fuse.
Westergaard said he wanted his cartoon to say that some people exploited the prophet to legitimize terror. However, many in the Muslim world interpreted the drawing as depicting their prophet as a terrorist.
"Of course I fear for my life after the Danish Security and Intelligence Service informed me of the concrete plans of certain people to kill me," Westergaard said in a statement posted on the newspaper's Web site. "However, I have turned fear into anger and indignation. It has made me angry that a perfectly normal everyday activity which I used to do by the thousand was abused to set off such madness."
CNN's Paula Newton said the arrests reinforced growing fears in Europe that radical Islam was trying to suppress free speech.
"More and more Europeans feel that Islam is a threat to their way of life," Newton said. A recent Gallup poll for the World Economic Forum showed a majority of Europeans believed relations between the West and the Muslim world were worsening. According to the poll this sentiment was strongest held among Danish.
Westergaard remains under police protection and does not know whether it will continue.
"I could not possibly know for how long I have to live under police protection; I think, however, that the impact of the insane response to my cartoon will last for the rest of my life," he said. "It is sad indeed, but it has become a fact of my life."
Carsten Juste, the paper's editor-in-chief, said staffers have been "deeply worried" for several months.
"The arrests have hopefully thwarted the murder plans," he said on the newspaper's Web site. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report
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