Norway’s special police investigative unit Kripos has quietly re-opened a probe into the attempted assassination 17 years ago of William Nygaard, the publishing executive whose firm published the controversial book Satanic Verses in Norway. Nygaard himself has launched an attack of his own on the police investigation at the time.
“They got off on the wrong foot with a less-than-competent team,” Nygaard told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. “Everything fell apart. Having seen how the Swedish police had got stuck in a rut in the Olof Palme case, they (the Norwegian police) wanted to take a broad approach.”
As a result, Nygaard said, “they underestimated the most important lead, the fatwa that pronounced a death sentence on everyone who took part in publishing Satanic Verses.”
The recently retired head of publishing firm Aschehoug said that solving the case and finding his attempted assassin “is important, primarily to defend Norwegian values of freedom of expression and the right to live safe from violence in a pluralist society.”
He called the attempt on his life “a precursor to what we now know as Islamic terrorism,” adding that “it was also an attack on Norwegian territory and a cross-border crime.”
He told Aftenposten that “it’s strange to think that the police intelligence services weren’t put on the case. If anyone had the necessary international capabilities, it was the Police Surveillance Agency (POT). This illustrates the (poor) quality and the lack of leadership in the investigation.”
Nygaard was shot three times outside his house in the Holmenkollen district of Oslo while on his way to work on an October morning in 1993, but survived. It took five years before the police concluded that all clues in the murder attempt were connected with the fatwa issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. Nygaard had accused Iran of being behind the attempt on his life as early as December 1993. The Iranian Embassy in Oslo denied having anything to do with the assassination attempt.
The fatwa conferred death sentences on all who took part in publishing Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Nygaard had just published the book in Norway. Two years earlier the book’s Japanese translator had been stabbed to death, while his Italian colleague had survived a similar murder attempt.
Last year the case was secretly re-opened, according to a new book on the subject, Who shot William Nygaard?, by author and journalist Odd Isungset. The re-opening was initiated by the director of public prosecutions, who demanded that the case be removed from control by the Oslo Police. Isungset has catalogued a series of police mistakes in his book, including tactical and legal errors, lapses in border controls and failed arrests and indictments. Norway’s special police intelligence unit wasn’t involved in the investigation and some police officials reportedly have been critical of the way it was handled.
“This should have been a trauma of national proportions, like the Olof Palme murder in Sweden,” Isungset told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We are talking about an attempted murder on Norwegian soil, ordered by another country. Police efforts in the Nygaard case contrast starkly with the manner in which terror crimes are treated by police today.”