Denmark: Capitulating to terror

Danish media have recently uncovered (or recovered), several cases where Danish authorities capitulated to direct or indirect terror threats during the 1980s. As the following story shows, the Danes were equal opportunity capitulaters at the time, and did not differentiate between Muslim and Christian terrorists.


In 1983, police in Cyprus stormed a ship and confiscated 1,139 kg of Lebanese hashish on its way to Denmark. The cargo was hidden between ceramic herb pots in an container. The Cypriot police arrested several people, one of which was a man Danish authorities had followed for a while, named Ahmed Yousef Wehbe. He was a former Lebanese police officer and was wanted in many European countries who thought he was responsible for smuggling in massive amount of hashish from the Middle East.

In Denmark, telephone taps revealed that Wehbe distributed large amount of hashish to the Danish market through the art gallery Helligejst in inner Copenhagen.

Danish and international police watched Wehbe's drug trade for several years and it was well known how the hashish was flown to Denmark in freight planes, marked as going to large, reputable companies. In Kastrup airport they were picked up by Wehbe's assistants, before the intended companies could react. In other cases Dutch police stopped trucks with several tons of hashish, on their way to Denmark.

The Danes therefore asked to extradite Ahmed Yousef Wehbe, and this occurred in the spring of 1985. Denmark succeeded in having him extradited before 6-7 other nations who had a score to settle with him. At this point in time, six of Wehbe's friends in Denmark were sentenced to 3-8 years in prison for the extensive drug trade. The cases was considered one of the largest drug cases in Denmark.

Carsten Egeberg Christensen, then a police attorney, and now a jurist with the narcotics police, remembers that he was in Cyprus and managed to convince the local judges that they had a strong case against Wehbe. It wasn't easy but they had witnesses. Christensen estimates Whebe was facing 6 years in jail.

In a conference in Vienna, the judicial head of the divison at the time, police lawyer Volmer Nissen, emphasized the Whebe case as a shining example of good international police cooperation.

But Wehbe was more than just a drug trader. His father-in-law was head of one of the Christian Phalangists in Lebanon and commanded his own private militia. The father-in-law's brother was a parliament member in Beirut. It was known at the time that the civil war in Lebanon was financed with drug money and Wehbe was not only part of an influential family in Lebanon, he was also an important economic player in the power game.

The Danish government received an official request on Feb. 1985 from the uncontrolled and chaotic Lebanon, who suddenly wanted Denmark to withdraw their extradition request, saying he was suspect of check fraud in his homeland. The criminal charges were much less serious than the Danish charges, and therefore the Justice Minister first declined the request. But then something unexpected happened.

On March 22, 1095, the Danish ambassador in Beirut - Neils Christian Tillisch - was visited by Ahmed Wehbe's father in law, who asked Denmark from refraining to extradite Wehbe. The visit was followed up by an anonymous call that said that they would use the 'Swiss solution' if Denmark didn't step down. This frightened Tillisch and his workers, since at that time a Swiss diplomat had just been murdered in Beirut, and 6-7 other envoys were reported mission. The terror threat was very real.

Tillisch therefore immediately turned to the Danish foreign ministry. In the next few days there was a hurried meeting between the foreign minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen and the justice minister Erik Ninn-Hansen. Just a few days later, on March 26th, Denmark gave up on Wehbe's extradition - apparently unconditionally.

On Søndagsmagasinet on DR in December 1985, journalists Michael Thorsen and Jørgen Dinesen described the government's about face, and justice minister Erik Ninn-Hansen publicly confirmed that terror threats were the cause for dropping the extradition request. He claimed though, that Denmark had demanded that Wehbe also be held accountable for the Danish charges, when he's persecuted in Lebanon. But that never happened.

At the narcotics division of the Copenhagen Police it was understood that the government capitulated to the terror threats. Volmer Nissen says he was angry with the decision, but nobody listened to them.

This is confirmed by Carsten Egeberg Christensen: There was general resentment in the narcotics division, and both lawyers and policemen were frustrated with the dropping of the extradition, but there is no doubt that people took the terror threats seriously.

Former justice minister Ole Espersen ascertained for DR that the Danish government had undoubtedly decided to capitulate to the serious terror threats, but at the same time didn't want to discredit them. He says that the Danes claim they don't capitulate to terrorists, and they really shouldn't, but there can unfortunately be cases where people make a trade-off.

As a professor of law Espersen recognized that there can be serious repercussions, but says that he probably would have done the same. He says it mustn't be made public, since if terrorists found out they can do so, it will bring about other such cases.

The case never caused a big political storm in Denmark. Not either when Søndagsmagasin made another segment that showed that Denmark apparently first demanded that Wehbe be persecuted for the Danish charges only a week after he left Cyprus and was allegedly already a free man in Lebanon. The hashish smuggler came home April 3rd, 1985. Eight days later the Danish authorities sent a fax through the Lebanese embassy in Stockholm, demanding judicial prosecution,

Only parliament member Jørn Lenger followed up on the case and posed a question in parliament to the involved ministers. Justice minister Erik Ninn-Hansen said to parliament in December 1988 that he debated the issue with the foreign minister due to the "serious threats against the Danish ambassador in Lebanon". The ministers discussed whether they should drop the general rules and principles for extradition, and decided to entrust Wehbe to his own homeland.

Ninn-Hansen stressed through, that he had asked Uffe Ellemann-Jensen to clarify that withdrawing the extradition request was conditional on persecution according for the Danish crimes.

A few weeks later, foreign minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen said that the Danish government assumed in connection with withdrawing the extradition request, that Wehbe will be persecuted for the Danish charges.

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen doesn't have a 'detailed recollection of the case" and therefore couldn't comment on it.

The Danish embassy in Beirut closed down shortly after the death threats and ambassador Niels Christian Tillisch worked from Damascus in Syria from September 1985.

Terrorism expert Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, who worked for PET till a few years ago, doesn't think that the Danish authorities will capitulate today for similar threats. He says terrorism is a high profile subject all over the world, but that people should see such decisions in relation to their time. It might have been a ration decision then.

BT did not manage to get a comment from Niels Christian Tillisch.

Source: BT (Danish)

See also: Denmark: Force 17 Office, Copenhagen, Denmark: Fear of terrorism backlash

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