OSLO, Norway (AP) — Three men accused in Norway of an al-Qaida-linked plot to attack a Danish newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad pleaded not guilty to terror charges Tuesday at the start of trial seen as a key test of Norway's anti-terror laws.
Mikael Davud, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak and David Jakobsen had been under surveillance for more than a year when authorities moved to arrest them in July 2010.
Norwegian investigators, who cooperated with U.S. counterparts, say the defendants were building a bomb in a basement laboratory in a plot linked to the same al-Qaida planners behind 2009 schemes to blow up New York's subway and a British shopping mall.
Though the defendants have made some admissions, they deny the terror charges. Prosecutors must prove that they worked together in a conspiracy, because a single individual plotting an attack is not covered by Norway's anti-terror laws.
Prosecutor Geir Evanger told the Oslo district court that Davud, the alleged ringleader, received explosives training in Pakistan and conspired with al-Qaida operatives to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, whose 12 cartoons of Muhammad triggered furious protests in Muslim countries in 2006.
Later, the plan was changed to killing Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist who created one of the most controversial of the 12 drawings, Evanger said.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Bujak and Jakobsen are accused of joining the plot in 2009 and helping acquire bomb-making chemicals. Police say they had the men under surveillance and even replaced a key ingredient with a harmless liquid to ensure they wouldn't succeed in building a bomb.
Davud, a 40-year-old ethnic Uighur from China, smiled as the charges were read. He rejects belonging to al-Qaida and any links to the foiled terror plots in New York and Manchester, England, and denies having traveled to Pakistan, his lawyer Carl Konow Rieber-Mohn said.
Davud claims he was plotting to attack the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, and that the other two defendants were not aware of his plans. Rieber-Mohn said Davud was motivated by "private revenge" related to Beijing's suppression of Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China.
Davud's lawyers said the charges don't come close to meeting the criteria for a terrorist conspiracy under Norwegian law.
Prosecutors don't believe the Chinese Embassy was the target of the plot and made no reference to it in the charges.
As part of their evidence, they will present testimony obtained in the U.S. in April from Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, who have pleaded guilty in the plot to bomb the New York subway, as well as Bryant Neal Vinas, an American al-Qaida recruit who is cooperating with U.S. authorities.
A U.S. investigator will also testify in the Norwegian trial later this month.
Bujak, an Iraqi Kurd, has confessed that he and Davud planned the attacks against the Danish newspaper and later aimed to target Westergaard. But Bujak's lawyer, Brynjar Meling, said they dropped the plans long before they were arrested and he "has never admitted" criminal guilt.
Jakobsen, an Uzbek national who changed his name after moving to Norway, provided some of the chemicals for the bomb, according to the indictment. His lawyer Rene Ibsen said Jakobsen did not know they were meant for explosives.
Ibsen said Jakobsen had contacted the security police in September 2009 and had later been an informant for the police.