Norway fights UAE terror designation

UPDATED: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has suddenly designated one of Norway’s largest muslim organizations, Det Islamske Forbundet, as a terror organization. The group isn’t the only one upset about its inclusion on a list of terror organizations, and Norway’s foreign ministry is demanding a clarification from UAE officials.

Norway's Islamic council was front and center in last summer's massive demonstration against extremism in Oslo. Led by secretary General Mehtab Afsar (center), the group is seen as partner for Norwegian authorities, but now it's landed on the United Arab Emirates' list of "designated terrorist organizations." PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Håkon Mosvold Larsen

Members of Norway’s Islamic Association took part in last summer’s massive demonstration against extremism in Oslo. The group is a large, active and well-recognized muslim organization in Norway, but now it’s landed on the United Arab Emirates’ list of “designated terrorist organizations.” PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Håkon Mosvold Larsen

The United Arab Emirate’s own official news bureau, WAM, initially misidentified the targeted organization as Norway’s large muslim umbrella organization Islamsk Råd Norge, but later corrected that to single out the Det Islamske Forbundet (The Islamic Association) instead. Norway’s foreign ministry objects just as strongly, though, to the terrorist designation.

“The foreign ministry finds it hard to understand why Det Islamske Forbundet (The Islamic Association in Norway) has been included on the list of designated terrorist organizations issued by the United Arab Emirates,” said Bård Glad Pedersen, state secretary in the foreign ministry. Pedersen said Norway’s embassy in Abu Dhabi has contacted UAE authorities and asked for an explanation.

He described The Islamic Association is a “large and active” muslim organization, which runs the Rabita Mosque on Calmeyers Gate in downtown Oslo. The association is a member of Islamsk Råd Norge, Norway’s Islamic council, which represents 41 member organizations nationwide and often cooperates with other religious groups including the Norwegian Lutheran church. The council and members of the association both played a highly visible, even historic, role in last summer’s massive public protests against Islamic extremism and also have worked towards integration and respect between muslims and non-muslims in Norway.

The association wasn’t the only such group, however, to land on the UAE’s new terror list (external link). Similar organizations in Sweden, Finland and Denmark were also found on the list, including the Swedish Muslimska Förbund and Det islamske trossamfund in Denmark. Several of those groups have already protested their inclusion on the list, as did the association in Norway. Now the Norwegian foreign ministry is also objecting on its behalf, with Norway’s Islamic Association listed just above the infamous terror organization Al Qaeda on the UAE’s list.

“The Emirates’ authorities have not offered any basis for their terror list,” Pedersen said. “The foreign ministry will follow up this issue, both in regards to the lack of their reasoning and the consequences this can have for those targeted.”

The timing of the list’s release coincided with an official visit by Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende to the United Arab Emirates over the weekend. Pedersen said the Norwegian delegation received no information about the UAE’s terror list beforehand. Ministry officials said Brende was in Abu Dhabi along with around 20 other foreign ministers and top UN officials for a high-level conference on Iraq and Syria. Pedersen said the terror list was not on the agenda nor was it raised at any of Brende’s meetings in the UAE, which is run by a president but where political parties are prohibited.

News bureau NTB reported that the UAE may view the various Islamic groups on its long list as similar to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which the UAE opposes along with democracy in general. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE supported the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood just a year after it had won Egypt’s first democratic election in 2012.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund