Attack on cartoonist is great PR for panic rooms

Kurt Westergaard's home in Aarhus

Kurt Westergaard escaped death last week by locking himself in his safe room

BY Jack Bremer LAST UPDATED AT 17:34 ON Sun 3 Jan 2010

So, having a safe room installed in your home is not such a crazy idea after all. The phenomenon that first came to light with the 2002 Jodie Foster film Panic Room has finally been proved to be worth the cost and effort after the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard locked himself in his specially fortified bathroom last week and escaped certain death at the hands of an axe-wielding Somali extremist.

Seventy-five-year-old Westergaard was looking after his granddaughter Stephanie on Friday night when the attacker smashed a window and broke into his home (above) in Aarhus, Denmark's second city.

Westergaard, who had lived in expectation of an attack ever since his cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban sparked riots throughout the Middle East in 2005-06, pressed an alarm button to summon police and then ran into his specially converted bathroom and locked himself in.

The attacker repeatedly smashed his axe against the bathroom door - but to no avail. Shouting "I'll be back", he then left the house to confront the police. He managed to smash a police car window with the axe before being shot in the hand and knee. According to Danish intelligence, he is connected to Al-Shabaab, a Somali terror group.

He is not the first Islamist to seek revenge for Westergaard's controversial cartoon, originally commissioned in 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. A plot by two Tunisians to decapitate him was foiled by police and he and his wife have had to spend extended periods in safe houses.

"This will go on for the rest of my life," he said in a recent interview. "There is no way out."

While there was considerable publicity about panic rooms as a result of the Jodie Foster film, their use rarely comes to light. However, they are known to be popular with owners of private art and antiquity collections, and with people who believe their children are potential kidnap victims. People who expect to be attacked - more likely to be wealthy bankers than cartoonists - are a potentially burgeoning market.

Features include bullet-resistant glazing, power and phone lines that will work even if the house supplies cut off, and doors that are resistant to forced entry and firearms and can be opened only by electronic codes.

Westergaard was lucky in one respect. While Jodie Foster's character - under threat from three armed robbers - hid in her Manhattan panic room with her young daughter, the cartoonist did not have time to grab his five-year-old granddaughter before he shut himself in his safe room on Friday.

"I feared for my grandchild," he told Jyllands-Posten. "But she did great. I knew that he wouldn't do anything to her."

However, a security expert questioned by The First Post said: "He should never have left the girl outside the safe room. The assailant might easily have threatened her life in order to get him to open the door." · 

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