About the article
Interview with Torkil Lauesen by Peter Kramer
Originally published in Det fri Aktuelt, 31 August 1991, 2nd section pp. 10-11. Posted online with permission of the author in Danish:
In a detention centre on Zealand, Torkil Lauesen awaits the Supreme Court’s final decision on his sentence in the Blekinge Street case. “For me, it’s over. But my political commitment has not changed,” Torkil Lauesen tells Det Fri Aktuelt. In his first interview, he talks about the motives that led him to cross the line from legal solidarity work to crime – and about the fatal ending: the killing in Købmagergade.
The Blekingegade group was blown up by the police–after 15 years of surveillance. If not, the group would have dissolved itself. They were finished.
“It is highly likely that the illegal activity would have stopped on its own. There was little desire to continue after the dramatic course of the Købmagergade robbery. To my knowledge, there were no forward plans.”
So says Torkil Lauesen to Det Fri Aktuelt.
In a cell in a detention centre on Zealand, he awaits the Supreme Court’s final verdict in the Blekingegade case.
The Supreme Court sentenced him to the most severe penalty in the law–10 years in prison–for his admitted involvement in the robbery of Købmagergade post office.
“I’m done with this kind of thing. I will not and obviously cannot continue with illegal work once I get out. For personal and family reasons. I want to see my daughter grow up. But my political commitment has not changed and legal solidarity work is not new to me,” he says.
The robbery of the Købmagergade post office on 3 November 1988 raised DKK 14 million for the liberation movements in the Third World. First of all, the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, received nine million–the rest was distributed to as yet unknown recipient countries.
But the robbery cost 22-year-old policeman Jesper Egtved Hansen his life. The group’s own limits had thus been exceeded.
From a political and moral point of view, the men in Blekingegade had accepted that–for the sake of the case–they would cross the line between normal political solidarity work and criminality.
Instead, they set their own limits.
But those boundaries were crossed that morning in Købmagergade.
“It was an accident. A coincidence of unfortunate circumstances. What more can I say? Yes, we had agreed to exceed the limits of the law in order to raise money for what I consider a good cause. But it was our own requirement that this should be done with the minimum of violence. And that’s not just a bad excuse now afterwards. We tried to limit the use of force,” he says.
Not planning to shoot at anyone
Among Torkil Lauesen’s examples:
“The batons we might use were made of a flexible cable wrapped in fabric, so people wouldn’t get seriously hurt. The plan to rob a cash transport in Niels Hemmingsensgade was abandoned because we could see it would be too wild. And it was not part of any plan to shoot at anyone.”
The Kaufmagergader robbery on 3 November 1988 went ahead as planned. Until the tragedy at the corner of Løvstræde and Købmagergade in the centre of Copenhagen.
As the last man, Torkil Lauesen jumped into the back of the getaway car–a Toyota Hiace. In the narrow passage outside the post office, a police car had arrived. The driver, Carsten Nielsen, sped up the van and drove up the pavement, avoiding the police car. The police fired the first shots at the rear window of the getaway car.
Immediately after the corner of Købmagergade, the brakes were cut. The still unidentified passenger in the front seat jumped out–still according to plan–to, from the corner, fire a scare shot at the pursuers.
Only at this point did the man with the rifle spot police car No. 2. Parked in front of the shoe shop on Købmagergade. With the 22-year-old police officer Jesper Egtved Hansen, who had drawn his service pistol.
Then came the robbers’ only but fatal shot.
The police’s corrected forensics determined that the shot was not fired at the head of the officer. That no aim was taken, but that the shot was fired from the hip.
The legal judges concluded the jury trial in the Østre Landsret by ruling that there was no basis to convict the defendants–including Torkil Lauesen–for the killing.
Unlikely that the police reached the scene
Torkil Lauesen: “The weapon was taken to be able to fire a scare shot if necessary. But we who carried out the Købmagergade plan thought it was safe. We would be gone in 120 seconds at most. In fact, it only took 90. For us it was quite unlikely that any police car could arrive within that time frame. We hadn’t encountered anyone during the preliminary reconnaissance.”
A hot summer day in the detention centre. A stick of butter, two peaches and a carefully measured time.
Where to start, and where to end the conversation with one of the absolute protagonists in the most talked about criminal case in Danish history.
Nail him until the all-important moment. The shooting. Which he barely heard, but which he knows better than anyone was the moment of truth.
For him, the most important thing is to dispel the myths.
About himself as some kind of last dinosaur of the 60s, suddenly sticking his head out–like a premature revolutionary ghost.
On the contrary, he believes that the relationship between the world’s rich and poor countries, which was the starting point for the group’s political theories, will become the main political tension of the 1990s.
Or his organisation, the Communist Working Group–described as a secret sect–which, under the guise of idealistic solidarity work, carried out systematic crime.
Existence due to chance
Torkil Lauesen was a criminal.
But the Communist Working Group was a traditional political organisation, whose common denominator was solidarity work–collecting clothes, flea markets and information work–and not crime.
It was not a cover-up organisation with a criminal core at its core. No one knew what was going on except those directly involved.
Families, boyfriends, friends. No one. Someone might have suspected, but no one knew anything.
The Blekinge Street Group–with its unknown members and its still unknown history–came into being by chance. Not as the result of a political strategy.
“It’s important to understand that our emergence is not based on a societal basis. There are no objective reasons for our existence. As there are for the liberation movements in the Third World, for example, and which are partly the basis of the IRA in Northern Ireland and ETA in the Basque Country.”
“Just as someone can understand the radicalisation that led to the Red Brigades in Italy. Those circumstances are not present in Denmark. Our existence–the existence of the Blekinge Street Group–is due to chance. It is the result of a confluence of people and strong opinions that met in the same place,” says Torkil Lauesen.
We were not a terrorist group
“Our motivation was not in the Danish reality, but in the Third World. We live in a time when international contexts play an increasingly important role. Denmark deals with the Third World and conducts foreign policy in relation to it,” he says.
“But our group was not what anyone would call a terrorist organisation. Our activities were not aimed at ‘undermining the Danish legal system’, as Jørgen Flindt Petersen wrote in his editorial in Det Fri Aktuelt after the verdict in the regional court. This case–the Købmagergade robbery–only became political because we were caught. Before then, the robbery was seen as a criminal act without political motives,” he says.
“We did not issue a political message, a communique, after the robbery. The proceeds were used for a political purpose in the Third World, but the public was unaware of this. The act itself was not made political in relation to Danish society,” he says.
On the first day of the trial against the Blekingegade group, Torkil Lauesen admitted his role in the robbery in Købmagergade. He told about the bluff, where the group disguised as police officers gained access to the police station. And how he was the last man to throw himself into the back of the getaway car, which was hit seconds later by the salvo of the first police patrol on the scene.
And he confessed his role in planning “Operation Good Ceasar”. The plan to kidnap Swedish billionaire Jørn Rausing.
It was a disgusting plan
It was Torkil Lauesen who kept the Rausing apartment under observation the night before the planned attack on 7 January 1985. From a tree in the park opposite.
“Even the Rausing plan, if it had been carried out, would have appeared as a pure criminal action. Without any political purpose. The plan was drawn up purely to raise money. The victim was chosen because he was a wealthy person, not because he was a ‘cowardly’ capitalist,” says Lauesen.
But the consequences for Jørn Rausing?
“The starting point was given. He was not to be harmed. The disgusting plan was to be carried out to raise an astronomical amount of money. We had made sure that nothing would happen to him. We had asked about the anaesthetics from a doctor who didn’t know what they were for. We had tested the drugs on ourselves. We were convinced that there was no risk. I know that there is now a different medical assessment of that case, but we thought we were safe. We had planned his stay in the cell. Bought walkmans, books, cassette tapes, beep-beep games and so on to make life easier for him in the cell. He was to be released when the operation was over and the money paid. There was no direct political aim to the abduction. And it was not like the kidnappings of Aldo Moro in Italy or Hans Martin Schleyer, the labour leader in West Germany. There were no plans to kill anyone.”
But you abandoned the plan?
“Yes! Everyone felt bad about it. It was a real judgment. It was voluntary retirement. When it came down to it, nobody wanted to implement it. It was a disgusting plan. But it had emerged out of the morass that was the Middle East in the early 80s. Thousands of Palestinians had been killed. Remember the massacre in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. They had no money. They had nothing.”
And then they asked you for help?
“No. We were not guided by anyone. Nor by the PFLP. It was us who had the idea, took the initiative.”
Breaking the link between the Blekinge Street Group and traditional European terrorism is a key issue for Torkil Lauesen. As practised, for example, by the Baader-Meinhof group Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany.
“I believe that this kind of action is pointless. I believe only in revolutionary change based on broad popular support, such as exists in the Third World. If we had wanted to do actions like the Rote Arme Fraktion in Germany, we could have done it. We had the physical means. But we didn’t want to,” he says.
Nobody controlled us
For Torkil Lauesen, a rejection of traditional terrorism is the most important contribution to the history of the Blekinge Street Group.
He knows the inevitable answer.
That it doesn’t matter if a man dies because he becomes a victim of politically motivated terrorism. Or because he becomes a victim of political solidarity work.
That’s where the ring begins and ends.
Torkil Lauesen knows that.
But as he sees it, the policeman was neither a victim of terrorism nor of political solidarity work.
For him, Jesper Egtved Hansen’s death was “negligent homicide”. What was not supposed to happen, happened. And it makes no sense in every other sentence to demand that he pay for and justify the 22-year-old officer’s death.
He will not justify. But explain.
“We didn’t feel like we were in the vanguard, leading the fight. We did not want to be a new ‘trend’ in the political environment in Denmark. We had no outward propaganda to get others to join us illegally. We stood for a concrete practice with a concrete purpose. To raise some money. But we certainly did not see our way as a general political strategy for Denmark.”
How could you cross the line from legal political activity to criminality?
“Well, we travelled a lot. Seen the world, as they say.
Personally, I was in the then Rhodesia, among other places, and saw the results of the Ian Smith regime’s warfare. Others were in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and India. All that war and misery made an impression. Not least Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. We slowly became radicalised in terms of what could be done.”
But why you? Why in Denmark?
“Is it so strange? Is it weird if a middle class guy in Caracas, Venezuela breaks out and becomes a revolutionary. There’s nothing weird about someone breaking the framework of their comfortable life and becoming a revolutionary. Nelson Mandela was a lawyer. George Habash (leader of the PFLP, ed.) was a doctor. Without wanting to compare myself to them, they are also examples of middle-class individuals who become revolutionaries without suffering themselves. We wanted to take direct, active co-responsibility, not just watch the world go wrong passively.”
An ordinary boy
Torkil Lauesen comes from a good middle-class home in Korsør. There was no discussion of politics. He grew up alongside the general rise in prosperity that gave the family a fridge, TV, car and detached house.
He went to boarding school in Holbæk while the Vietnam War was raging and was slowly drawn into the political milieu around Gotfred Appel’s strictly hierarchical Communist Workers’ Party, KAK.
There he met one of the shadows of the Blekingegade affair, the now deceased Jens Holger Jensen. He was killed in a car accident in Århus in 1980.
“He made a fantastic impression on me. Holger worked at B&W. He made a lot of money, that’s what they did at B&W back then. But he lived in a couple of sneaky rooms in Nansensgade. The rest of his money he gave to Giro 1616, the Vietnam collection. I was captivated by that commitment.”
Jens Holger Jensen has become one of the legendary figures of the left. Together with Gotfred Appel, he was the driving force behind KAK and the youth organisation KUF, the two organisations that most militantly and radically led the Vietnam movement. Until the culmination of the battle for the World Bank in 1970.
The spotlight shifted from Vietnam to the Middle East. After years of silence, a series of dramatic terrorist actions suddenly put the Palestinian cause on the world agenda.
For me, it’s over
The Blekinge Street Group’s protagonists had close ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, which, in addition to the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation, carried out extensive social work for Palestinian refugees. On the run since 1948. “Denmark was a signatory to the UN partition plan for Palestine, which gave land for the creation of the state of Israel and to the Palestinians. But Israel has since taken it all. And Denmark has, until recently, completely taken the side of the lawbreaker in this conflict. We stood with the victims,” says Torkil Lauesen.
But not with the democratic rules of the game?
“We wanted to take an active share of responsibility. It is true that there has been a parliamentary majority behind support for Israel, but in my view that does not legitimise the country’s persistent violations of international law and massive breaches of human rights. It is these violations that we actively addressed.”
What is your advice to the politically motivated in our society?
“They should support the liberation movements in the 3rd world.”
In your way?
“Yes in our way. We sent well over 100 tons of clothing. We sent tents and medicine. And we sent over a million kroner in ‘legal’ funds over the years.”
But you became criminals precisely because you didn’t get enough in the till?
“Yes, but I think the conditions for this type of work will change in the coming years. The North-South conflict will emerge as the dominant one in the world, now that the East-West conflict is over. It will also become much more present in Danish society than before. Will the EC become the ‘Fortress Europe’ of the rich, defending itself against the poor hordes to the south and east? Should Danish soldiers go via NATO, the Western Union or an EC army to participate in expeditionary forces around the Third World? Should the new economic superpower, the European Community, fight against the USA and Japan in order to obtain the largest possible share of the global market, and against the Third World, which no longer wants to be a supplier of cheap labour and raw materials, and a dumping ground for the rubbish we do not want to have lying around? The North-South conflict is looming. It’s getting harder and harder to have fun in secret.”
Not in the Blekingegad Group way?
“No. For me it’s over. The personal cost is too great. And a man died.”
Says Torkil Lauesen. The man from Blekingegade.