October 16, 2014 / 3:33 PM / 5 years ago

Denmark wants answers on wanted man missing in Turkish custody: foreign minister

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish officials will travel to Turkey to establish the fate of a wanted Danish man whose family says is missing from Turkish custody, the foreign minister said, before criticising the Turkish authorities for being unresponsive on the case.

The man, who is known in Denmark only by the initials BH, is wanted by Danish police for the attempted murder in Copenhagen in February 2013 of newspaper columnist and outspoken critic of Islam, Lars Hedegaard.

Police say BH, a Danish citizen with Lebanese roots, fled Denmark on the day of the shooting and spent time in Syria, before being arrested in Turkey in April 2014.

Last week, his family told police the man was no longer in Turkish custody. Danish officials have since been trying unsuccessfully to obtain information on his whereabouts from their Turkish counterparts.

“We are now sending a delegation of government officials to Turkey to communicate with the Turkish intelligence service,” Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard told a parliamentary committee questioning him on the issue on Thursday.

“I am angry that we can’t get any answers from Turkey and I have expressed that very clearly to my Turkish colleague in a telephone conversation yesterday,” the minister added.

Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen said she would be contacting her Turkish counterpart on Thursday.

There has been speculation in the Danish media that BH was handed over to militant group Islamic State as part of an exchange for 46 Turkish hostages last month, and lawmakers discussed the possibility of such a swap having occurred.

Former foreign minister and opposition party Conservatives spokeswoman Lene Espersen on political affairs was highly critical of Turkey, a NATO member, accusing Ankara of negotiating with IS on the hostages’ release in exchange for jailed IS fighters.

A U.S.-led international coalition has been using air strikes to try to stall the advance of IS fighters who control large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria.

“We have all agreed to fight IS and if Turkey chooses to negotiate with them for its own benefit, they do not deserve a place at the UN Security Council as they wish,” Espersen said. At the time, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called the release of the Turkish hostages as a covert operation but did not deny the possibility of there having been a swap.

The Turkish foreign and justice ministries had no immediate comment on a Danish visit or on the case.

Hedegaard, a former columnist at a top newspaper, had been convicted of hate speech after his remarks about Muslims but that conviction was later overturned by a higher court.

Reporting by Annabella Pultz Nielsen; Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Editing by Sabina Zawadzki and Raissa Kasolowsky

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