UPDATED: A man in his mid-20s from Skien in the Norwegian county of Telemark, who reportedly converted to Islam after growing up as a Catholic, has emerged as the announcer on a lengthy video released by the extremist group ISIL. In the video, published Monday on the website of local newspaper Telemarksavisa (TA), Bastian Alexis Vasquez, now known as Abu Safiyyah, is shown crossing the border between Syria and Iraq and boasting at a border station that, among other things, “we killed most of those who were here.”
Vasquez/Safiyyah, also formerly known as Muhahmmad Jundullah, first attracted attention in Norway during his days as a newly radical Islamist in the small city about two hours southwest of Oslo. Now he’s depicted as being in Iraq, and is the first Norwegian to be tapped as an apparent spokesman for a terrorist group.
‘Idiots praying to the devil’
He claims in the video that there is no Iraqi army presence in the areas ISIL invaded anymore, because they were “cowards” and ran off. The video, in which he smiles and speaks mostly English as he brags about ISIL’s recent conquests, shows him calmly strolling around an abandoned border patrol station, and showing off what amount to ISIL’s spoils of war. Music plays in the background.
The police and military officers who weren’t immediately killed were taken prisoner, Vasquez/Safiyyah claimed on the video as he opened a door to a jail cell in the local police station that was crammed with as many as 20 men. “Look at these idiots,” he says on the video. “They’re praying to the devil.”
He also proudly showed off several US-built armoured vehicles known as “Hummers,” which ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and Levanten) has now taken over, before the camera moved to show other ISIL extremists laying out explosives around the police station. Vasquez/Safiyyah is then shown watching a powerful explosion that destroyed the police station. The prisoners were apparently still locked inside its cell.
“We’ll blow up all the buildings here,” he says with a wave of his arm, after also claiming that ISIL will “cross many more borders” including Jordan’s. At the end of the video, one of his colleagues asks US President Barack Obama to “be sure to send enough diapers” for other Iraqi soldiers trained by the US. Then they drive off laughing in an American-built Ford truck.
Earlier threatened Stoltenberg
Vasquez/Safiyyah has been the target of an international arrest warrant since he left Norway, with Telemarksavisa reporting earlier that he’s among the Norwegian Islamists believed to have spent the most time taking part in the civil war in Syria. Now he’s apparently in Iraq, part of ISIL’s surprise offensive that swept over the border from Syria earlier this month and attacked several Iraqi cities. The group declared their own muslim state over the weekend made up of the areas they’d conquered in the two countries.
Vasquez/Safiyyah became nationally known in Norway after publishing a hate video in early 2012 against the Norwegian royal family, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre at the time. Stoltenberg is now in the process of taking over as the new secretary general of the NATO military alliance, while Støre succeeded him as head of the Norwegian Labour Party. Vasquez/Safiyyah was born in Norway to parents with immigrant background from South America, and speaks Spanish. His former defense attorney in Oslo, John Christian Elden, told NRK Monday evening that “Vasquez” was “an ordinary Norwegian boy with Chilean background,” who “sat in his room at home and made what he thought was a funny, critical video.”
“Then he was hung out in Norwegian media as a terrorist, and after that, he became another person,” Elden told NRK. “But I’m not blaming anyone in that connection.”
Siv Alsén of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) told Telemarksavisa that PST was aware of the video (external link to Telemarksavisa), but declined any further comment on it. Alsén added, however, that it was improbable more Norwegians were fighting for ISIL in Iraq. Several Norwegian Islamists have been fighting in Syria over the past few years.