NRK: ‘Deadly attack on Norwegians in Kabul was warned in advance’

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Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was reporting Friday morning that international forces in Afghanistan were warned in advance about a terrorist attack on a Kabul hotel in January 2008, during which a Norwegian journalist was among those killed and foreign ministry staff wounded.

NRK reported that it obtained access to secret documents via the controversial online service Wikileaks. The documents include a so-called “Threat Report,” and reveal detailed warnings from military intelligence sources that a terrorist attack was planned against the Serena Hotel in Kabul.

Three months later, while a Norwegian delegation led by Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was staying at the hotel, an attack was carried out, eerily in line with details in the intelligence report: Gunmen wearing police uniforms were driven up to one of the hotel’s entrances where they attacked the guard station with grenades and rifle fire, before one of them set off a bomb and another stormed into the hotel lobby and fired at random.

Eight killed, several wounded
Norwegian journalist Carsten Thomassen of Oslo-based newspaper Dagbladet was among those in the lobby who was shot and killed. Seven others also were killed and foreign ministry staff were wounded. Støre and others in the Norwegian delegation were meeting in a room in the hotel’s basement when the attack occurred and were ordered to stay there until security forces gained control.

The attack severely shook Støre and Norwegian officials who had considered the Serena Hotel to be the safest option in the war-torn Afghan capital. A foreign ministry spokesman told NRK on Friday that “it was difficult” for them to now answer whether Norwegian authorities were ever made aware of or received copies of the “Threat Report” written in October 2007.

Communications chief Bjørn Jahnsen of the foreign ministry (Utenriksdepartementet, UD) said UD was aware of threats against western targets in Kabul. “Despite these threats, the evaluation at the time was that the safest place to stay in Kabul was the Serena Hotel,” Jahnsen told NRK. “It was a choice we made along with most other countries who visited Kabul during that period.”

‘Shocking’
The widow of murdered journalist Thomassen, Ellen Hofsvang, told NRK that she’s been made aware of threats and has followed investigations into the terrorist attack closely, but never has seen “such concrete” threats as those revealed in the Wikileaks documents. She’s distressed they weren’t revealed earlier.

Afghanistan expert Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the peace research institute PRIO in Oslo, called the detailed reports “quite shocking,” not least if they weren’t shared with Norwegian officials.

A Norwegian military spokesman wouldn’t comment on the documents NRK obtained from Wikileaks, saying the defense department hadn’t had time to go through the material published by NRK. The documents obtained by NRK contain detailed information on threats from insurgents, Taliban plans and meetings, and intelligence evaluations of the threat of terrorist attacks.

Military spokesman John Inge Øgelænd said, however, that “it’s always unfortunate when information meant to be secret comes out. There’s a reason that the information is confidential, and we believe leaks of such information are unfortunate.” He declined an offer by NRK to read through the material it obtained from Wikileaks, indicating the military would instead wait to get the material itself and go through it “in a careful and professional manner.”

The editor at Dagbladet who sent Thomassen to Kabul to cover the Norwegian delegation’s trip told NRK he never would have done so if he’d known about the concrete threats of a terrorist attack. He now works for NRK.

NRK published an excerpt from a document in English here, plus links to others. (external link to www.nrk.no)

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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