Arfan Bhatti, charged but later acquitted of allegedly planning terrorist attacks on the US and Israeli embassies in Oslo, was back in police custody on Wednesday. He and an accomplice were arrested on alleged weapons violations and can be held for 72 hours, until after US President Barack Obama leaves town.
Bhatti’s defense attorney, John Christian Elden, called the arrests “hysterical” and “illegal,” and says he suspects “pressure from American security officials” are behind them. Elden thinks “the Americans” wanted to remove Bhatti as a security threat as long as Obama is in Oslo in connection with winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama is due to leave Oslo Friday morning.
Bhatti, age 32, was the first Norwegian citizen to be indicted on terrorism charges. He was charged with firing shots at the Israeli Embassy and for planning an attack on the US Embassy but was acquitted last year. He was convicted on a variety of other charges, including attempted murder after firing shots at a family’s home in Bærum.
Bhatti, who also has a record of earlier convictions for extortion and assault, was released from prison last summer but must report in to police regularly until his appeals trial comes up next spring.
Newspaper VG reported Wednesday that police tapped his phone lines and overheard him and his 31-year-old accomplice trying to obtain explosives. That’s reportedly what led to their arrests on Tuesday, which were carried out after what politicians from both Norway’s liberal and conservative parties told newspaper Aftenposten was a “thorough and correct evaluation” by state intelligence unit PST.
Elden said he expects Bhatti to be released on Friday, when police would be obliged to present evidence and file charges to keep him in custody. Elden said he wasn’t surprised Bhatti was placed in custody again, “but it’s completely unreasonable.”