Copenhagen Police and Media Sound Anti-Terror Alarm over Woman’s Unease at Train Passenger

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On Thursday the 28th, people in Denmark was confounded to receive a bulletin from the Copenhagen police concerning a person exhibiting “suspicious behaviour”.

People following the development on Twitter would experience it like this:

What, exactly, sent Copenhagen into high alert?

Alisiv Ceran is a 21-year-old English and Mandarin student at the University of Copenhagen. He was on the train heading for a written exam on the subject of the War on Terror for his course on American history.

As this was the kind of test you have 24 hours to prepare for, operating on three to four hours of sleep, Ceran was still going through his book on 9-11 on the ride towards his destination. Nervous about the impending exam, he locked eyes with a fellow passenger by Nørreport train station and attempted a smile, but knocked over his luggage case which contained the printer he had to bring for the exam.

The woman he had clumsily attempted a smile at was, apparently, so distraught by the experience that she called the police to tip them off to what she perceived as “suspicious behaviour”. The police found her a “very credible” witness and kicked everything into gear.

Once more, here is the police’s version of how events transpired in their final press statement on the false alarm:

This morning, Copenhagen Police received a report of a person in a train who exhibited suspicious behaviour. After the police’s assessment of the report, it was decided to start a search for the person, as we wanted to clear up what was behind the behaviour. The police concluded that the witness was very credible and takes such reports seriously.

- We have nothing but good reason to praise [/applaud] the reporter for being alert and for doing the only right thing, which is to contact the police about their observations. It creates a feeling of safety in the society that the citizen wishes to aid the police, says vice chief superintendent Claus Hjelm Olsen, who lead today’s police operation.

- We are aware that a massive police presence can create a certain discomfort, so we found it important to inform the population about what the background was, says Claus Hjelm Olsen.

Copenhagen Police’s massive effort had the intent of uncovering whether there was a criminal situation. When the wanted person was identified and approached, it turned out that it was a case of a perfectly legal situation, and the search was called off.

- We have received great help from the population, who’ve reacted appropriately during the situation. Based on our use of Twitter, we received great tips in our Service Centre. Huge kudos [/applause] to the public and the wanted’s family for their way of handling the situation. The wanted person, too, has handled all the ruckus with an understanding of the police’s reaction, and we want to emphasize that he in no way was known by the police already, says Claus Hjelm Olsen.

Interviews—Once Everything Had Calmed Down

  • Danish Radio (DR)
  • TV 2
  • Berlingske Tidende

    Interviewer: Are you shocked that so little from your side of the train could set off so much?

    Ceran: Not really. I think a lot of people assume the worst about people like me. That people who look like me and have a beard like me are probably terrorists. There are probably many who don’t know a single person who looks like me. I can understand that the woman was a little scared[.]

  • Politiken

    Interviewer: You weren’t thinking about how your behaviour might appear suspicious in the train?

    Ceran: Not at all. But I have a beard and a dark appearance. In the media, it’s always people like me who are the extremists. I will say, though, that if I actually were a terrorist, why would I be sitting and reading a book about it, but not carrying out the attack instead?

    Interviewer: Does it make you think that you shouldn’t be sitting and reading a book on terror the next time on the train?

    Ceran: I will try to be more careful with my demeanour and talk to people around me, so they don’t fear that something is amiss. And give them a smile.

And what of the police? Ceran had to lock himself into a accessible toilet as a precaution against people who might attempt a citizen’s arrest on him—or worse. From here, he called the police himself to set the record straight. Below is an excerpt of Politiken’s interview with police commissioner Thorkild Fogde.

Interviewer: When you get a hold of [the former suspect], will you give him an apology?

Police: “No, I don’t believe we have anything to apologize for. But I am going to explain to him why we react the way we do, so he has an understanding of it. But I don’t believe the police should apologize for taking the safety of the population seriously. It is our job, and even there was no terror threat in the specific case, we are not going to get around how there is an increased threat level against Denmark in general these years”, says Thorkild Fogde.