The Norwegian Police Security Service (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, PST) warned the threat of a terror attack within the country is still increasing, with the greatest threat coming from Islamist groups within Norway. PST first flagged growing radicalization by extremist Muslim groups seven years ago but the government ignored the warnings, and now PST’s predictions of ethnic Norwegian converts traveling to fight in “holy wars” are proving true.
The PST Chief, Benedicte Bjørnland released the Service’s revised terror threat level on Tuesday, reported newspaper Dagsavisen. She said the threat had sharpened and there’s an urgent need to combat radicalization, with the greatest danger from Islamic communities in Norway’s Østlandet region. “There’s a need for a change of tack,” said Bjørnland, adding that she’s seriously concerned by the growing number of young people who are greatly influenced by Islamic extremists in the country.
The PST warnings echoed the concerns voiced by Norway’s military intelligence service (Etterretningstjenesten, or E-tjenesten) last week. It said the civil war in Syria has lured around 40 to 50 Norwegians, who become even more radicalized during fighting with Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. One Norwegian man was charged with crimes including murder and terrorism last month upon his return to Norway from Syria.
Before 2007, PST did not list any great danger of radicalization efforts by extreme Muslim groups in Norway. The threat assessment in 2007 warned developments at the time showed a need for PST and other authorities to cooperate broadly to prevent radicalization, and to prevent those who already have such ideological convictions from establishing independent operative groups in Norway.
Concerns increased over following years, with the 2008 threat assessment warning “a growing number of radicalized individuals in Norway also increases the likelihood that actors who pose a threat can travel to conflict areas, have a position in training camps, take part in jihad – or worse, support or participate in terrorist acts in Norway.”
At Tuesday’s press conference Bjørnland stressed it was not PST’s responsibility to set up a youth plan, and said they’d warned of the current developments for many years. She announced PST applied for greater powers to monitor computer activity by those suspected of posing a terror threat.
Conservative (Høyre) politician Hårek Elvenes said it shows the previous coalition government hadn’t taken the warnings seriously. “Municipalities need manuals which show how to identify people who are at risk of being radicalized, and how to handle this,” he told Dagsavisen. “The government should ensure they get a kind of recipe for how they should proceed.”
He said those who’ve broken the law in Syria should face sanctions when they return to Norway. The head of the Justice Committee, Hadia Tajik from the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) agreed the consequences must set an example for those considering taking part in these kind of actions, but denied the last government had ignored the danger.
“What we did was to present the first action plan against radicalization ever, and I believe that has contributed to awareness and a policy framework,” she said. “We also had the ambition to make a new action plan, and I am pleased that those who’ve taken over wish to do the same.”
The Police Directorate said it’s important to remember youth crime rates are actually dropping. Erling Børstad told Dagsavisen the foundation for preventing radicalization and other crime is good cooperation between the police and communities. He said many different programs have been set up with mosques and schools in recent years.
However, Børstad agreed the Syria conflict can accelerate the radicalization PST warned of. “It’s important to target the efforts to a greater extent than before, and that we increasingly base measures on analysis of where and what is needed,” he said.