‘Police need more covert authority’

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg thinks Norwegian police must be granted broader authority to use more covert methods in their efforts to track down terrorists. She conceded that it’s “always a dilemma” to also heighten security measures that could undermine Norway’s open society, but suggested they may also need to be evaluated.

Jean-Claude Juncker, pres, EU Commission

Prime Minister Erna Solberg met with EU officials in Brussels just two weeks ago, here with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. PHOTO: Den norske EU-delegasjonen i Brussel

Solberg has called Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels both “shocking” and “terribly sad,” with “so many killed, and such great consequences.” She has been in Brussels herself twice this month, and noted that “this was an attack in the heart of Europe that none of us can by untouched by.”

The consequences were almost immediately felt in Norway when police in Oslo were ordered to re-arm themselves within hours of the attacks that left 34 people dead (including three suicide bombers) and around 250 injured. Police are traditionally unarmed in Norway but carried pistols for around a year beginning in 2014 after the terror threat against Norway was raised. They were recently disarmed, but now are once again carrying loaded weapons when on patrol in Oslo.

Other consequences may emerge in the form of tougher security measures at airports  and, not least, more covert investigative methods by police. Solberg’s Conservatives-led coalition government, through the Justice Ministry that’s under the political leadership of her coalition partner the Progress Party, has already proposed allowing police to use a string of controversially concealed means of tackling terrorism and modern-day criminals. Now Solberg will push harder for their approval in Parliament.

“It’s not just these latest terrorist attacks that show the need (for more surveillance and covert methods),” Solberg told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. “Over time we’ve seen that when terrorists and other serious criminals shift their methods, the police must do the same. That’s why we’ve proposed giving police extended ability to do that.”

Solberg said she and her government colleagues were also looking at “other possibilities,” and must “find a balance between freedom and fighting terror.” She promised that personal privacy would be protected.

The prime minister was back in Brussels just last week, meeting here with leaders of The Norwegian Mission to the EU. From left, Erna Solberg's state secretary Ingvild Næss Stub, Erna Solberg, Norway's ambassador to the EU Oda Helen Sletnes and Norway's ambassador to Belgium, Ingrid Schulerud. Schulerud is married to Norway's former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, who is now secretary general of NATO and they live in Brussels. PHOTO: Den norske EU-delegasjonen i Brussel

The prime minister was back in Brussels just last week, meeting here with leaders of The Norwegian Mission to the EU. From left, Erna Solberg’s state secretary Ingvild Næss Stub, Erna Solberg, Norway’s ambassador to the EU Oda Helen Sletnes and Norway’s ambassador to Belgium, Ingrid Schulerud. Schulerud is married to Norway’s former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, who is now secretary general of NATO and they live in Brussels. PHOTO: Den norske EU-delegasjonen i Brussel

She’s just one of many political leaders in Scandinavia and Europe who felt personal discomfort after the attacks in Brussels. It’s the city to which politicians arguably travel the most, because of its base for EU institutions and NATO headquarters. For many Norwegians, Tuesday’s attacks seemed to hit close to home, not least since Brussels is a frequent destination even for non-politicians living in a country that’s not a member of the EU. On Wednesday came new reports as well of a link to neighbouring Sweden among terror suspects tied to the attacks in Paris and Brussels. Stockholm-based newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that a terror suspect shot and killed by Belgian police last week had lived in Sweden for several years.

Solberg acknowledged that the terror threat in Europe is high: “We have organized terror cells in our countries, and many attacks are averted, but we see that the inspiration to terror is strong.” Norway’s own police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) reported that it saw no immediate need to raise the terror threat level in Norway, but would continue to monitor the situation and stressed that the situation can change quickly.

Some security experts were predicting that more security may be needed outside the check-in areas of Norwegian airports, at least at the country’s gateway airport in Oslo, OSL Gardemoen. The suicide bombers who hit Brussels International Airport detonated explosives in luggage they wheeled into the check-in area, which, like at most airports around the world, is located outside the security control point for passengers boarding flights.

Random Norwegians interviewed by state broadcaster NRK Wednesday morning were mostly opposed to stricter measures at airports, trains stations or Oslo’s metro system. One man noted that suicide bombers will always find a way around security measures and that more controls would only be to the detriment of daily life. Others suggested it would undermine Norway’s open society, allowing terrorists to force Norwegians into compromising on something that’s highly valued.

“It’s always a dilemma how much security we should have,” Solberg told news bureau NTB. “What we need to work with the most is trying to prevent terrorist attacks, to infiltrate cells, work with intelligence services and promote cooperation among police departments.”

She added to DN that “we must never get used to terror. It must always be fought hard.”

The attacks on Tuesday killed and injured people from around 40 different countries, according to Belgium’s foreign minister. NRK reported that the Belgian Embassy in Oslo was laying out a condolence protocol on Wednesday at its ambassador’s residence at Tidemandsgate 6 in Oslo’s Frogner district, where most foreign embassies are located.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund