Police still tracking ‘terror convert’

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Norwegian police are frustrated that they legally can’t issue a warrant for a 33-year-old Norwegian man who converted to Islam and is believed to have trained with terrorist organization Al-Qaida in Yemen. There’s no law against terrorist training in Norway, and the man isn’t guilty of any other criminal offenses.

The man hasn’t been publicly identified, but details about him continue to stream into local media. He’s reportedly being sought by the British and American intelligence agencies including MI6 and the CIA, along with the Norwegian military’s intelligence unit (Forsvarets etterretningstjeneste), the local police intelligence agency PST and other western anti-terror organizations.

Whereabouts unknown
None of them reportedly knows where the man is at present, whether he remains in Yemen or is back in Norway.  Some researchers on terror and Islam in Oslo have said they believe leaks about him, first to news bureau AP and later to other media, were carefully placed by intelligence agencies, either to “smoke him out” or to send a signal to Al-Qaida that anti-terror forces in many countries know about him. Some have said he now may be “useless” for Al-Qaida, which is believed to have trained him to carry out an attack on an aircraft in connection with the Olympics in London this summer.

Helge Lurås of the Centre for International and Strategic Analysis (external link) in Haslum, believes the initial information about him was planted as a “controlled leak,” and thinks it’s surprising that no more complete information about him has been spread. “It’s essential to identify him, to try to keep him from carrying out any attacks,” Lurås told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. “Otherwise it’s not much help for border control agents or airport security to only know he’s an ethnic Norwegian in his 30s.”

Oslo-based newspaper Dagbladet has reported that the so-called “convert” was active on the left side of Norwegian politics until 2007, when he even was a candidate for municipal office in Oslo for the environmental party Miljøpartiet de grønne. He is a former member of the radical youth organization Blitz in Oslo and known for uncompromising leftist standpoints until he converted to Islam and started spending time in a local mosque. The head of the mosque told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he kept to himself, prayed, read religious texts and left. He also spent time at a mosque in Drammen, southwest of Oslo, and bid farewell to mosque acquaintances before leaving for Yemen.

Married with child
Investigators at PST have followed extremist circles in both Oslo and Drammen, where a few radical Islamists nurture opposition to Norwegian and western values. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that these persons, however, have been uncooperative with PST and not interested in dialogue.

Before that he worked at a day care center for small children in Oslo. He reportedly is married to the daughter of a diplomat from an unnamed north African country and has one child. It was at least partially because of his marriage that he converted to Islam in 2008 and took the name Abu Abdurrahman, according to the Sunday Times of London, which reported last week that he’s believed to be trained and operative, ready to carry out a suicide mission against a US passenger jet.

He reportedly was born and grew up in a neighbouring community to Oslo. His sister reportedly works in one of Norway’s government ministries.

Meanwhile, he remains at large, believed to be dangerous but able to avoid to arrest. “We have to respect privacy protection in this country,” Martin Bernsen, information chief in PST, told Aftenposten. Former friends of the man have said they’re “shocked” by the suspicion around him.

“I hung out with him regularly for three to four years,” one friend from the man’s days in heavy metal music circles told Aftenposten on Saturday. “We’re talking about a guy who drank beer, ate pizza, listened to Judas Priest and had long hair. The suspicions that he’s had terrorist training are difficult to understand.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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