Norwegian Islamists ‘fighting in Iraq’

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One of Norway’s top terror researchers said Friday that there’s reason to believe more young Islamic extremists from Norway are now fighting in Iraq as well as in Syria’s civil war. Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian defense department’s research institute (Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt) told state broadcaster NRK that he thinks Norwegians have hooked up with the same radical Islamic group that others already are suspecting of joining in Syria.

“There are indications that Norwegians are fighting with the extreme Islamic group ISIL,” Hegghammer told NRK on national radio Friday morning. “We’ve seen individual signs on the Internet that Norwegians are in Iraq.”

‘Shocking’ offensive
ISIL (The Islamic State in Iraq and Levanten) has “shocked” the military community this week, Hegghammer said, with its rapid and surprise offensive through Iraq. The city of Mosul in northern Iraq was invaded by militant jihadists from ISIL, which is believed to be part of the terror network al-Qaida, and set Iraqi military forces on the run. The group, rooted in allied Sunni Arab natives of the area, opposes the Kurds and Shiites and is feared to be trying to set off a civil in Iraq as well as the one already raging in Syria.

The group is also the same one linked to three young Norwegian men, two born in the former Yugoslavia and one originally from Somalia, who were arrested last month on charges of inciting terror and posing a threat to Norway and its allies. Norway’s police intelligence unit PST claimed two of the men had been fighting as so-called “foreign warriors” for Islamic law in Syria and all three had plans to join ISIL.

Now researchers think they’re far from alone. As many as 50 Norwegian citizens have taken part in Syria’s civil war, according to PST, and more may be fighting with ISIL in Iraq, according to Hegghammer.

‘Extremely worrisome’
“The prospect that Norwegians can also be used by ISIL in Iraq is extremely worrisome,” Hegghammer told NRK. “It shows that they offer their services to ISIL outside of Syria as well. When they’re fighting in Iraq, they can do the same in Lebanon and in the West.”

Asked why ISIL would want Norwegians fighting with them in Iraq, Hegghammer said they’re easy for ISIL to exploit in its propaganda. “They can make it look like ISIL is a multinational organization with support from the whole world,” he said. “And they know that when a foreigner is killed in battle, it can inspire others in their home country, who see that those who have traveled there to fight have become a martyr.”

Norwegian government officials introduced new measures this week as part of state efforts to prevent extremism and the radicalization of Norwegian youth. PST and military intelligence in Norway have also stepped up efforts to monitor the movements of young Islamists, and heading off to fight in Syria’s civil war can soon result in criminal convictions.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund