Faced with having two radical Islamists set free in Norway again, both with a history of being terror suspects, the government and police are taking unprecedented steps to contain their activities. Arfan Bhatti and Mullah Krekar face close monitoring, with Krekar still facing deportation.
Bhatti, who had a long criminal record of violence before he became an Islamic extremist, was immediately arrested when he landed back in Oslo on Wednesday. Police charged him in a three-year-old case involving his earlier alleged threats and violence against a former spouse, but most terror experts believe the goal is to prevent Bhatti from trying to further radicalize Muslims in Norway.
“PST (Norway’s police intelligence agency) and the authorities probably want to keep him away from the extreme Islamic milieu, to prevent him from building it up,” Lars Gule, a researcher specializing in extremism and Islam, told newspaper Aftenposten. “And there is reason to fear that.”
One former member of the Norwegian Islamic group Profetens Ummah called Bhatti “dangerous” on national radio Thursday morning, while Kjetil Stormark, an author and journalist who runs Hate Speech International, thinks Bhatti’s homecoming can contribute to radicalization, both in the form of rhetoric and actions.
“Profetens Ummah and other militant Islamic circles in Norway will probably become much more daring and persistent than before,” Stormark told Aftenposten. He said the group stagnated when Bhatti, earlier convicted as an accomplice in an attack on the synagogue in Oslo, left Norway in 2012, reportedly to join jihadists in Syria. In 2013, he was arrested in Pakistan and sent to prison, convicted of having had contact with the Taliban.
Bhatti was released last August and immediately resumed urging Muslims to fight holy war. Writing on his Facebook page, Bhatti also warned Norwegian authorities against taking part in efforts to fight the brutal terror group IS.
His defense attorney John Christian Elden told reporters last fall that Bhatti hoped to remain in Pakistan and not be extradited to Norway. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Thursday that Bhatti instead actively sought to return to Norway and finally succeeded this week. Elden was already working to secure his release from arrest, while others predicted the police and PST will continue to follow Bhatti’s movements closely.
Mullah Krekar, meanwhile, has been ordered to report regularly to police authorities after he’s released from the prison term he’s been serving for having made threats against two Kurds in Norway and Conservatives leader Erna Solberg, now Norway’s prime minister. Krekar will also be ordered to settle in a location to be determined by the authorities, instead of being allowed to return to his home in Oslo, pending his deportation.
Norwegian government authorities have been trying for years to send Krekar back to Iraq, which he’d fled in the early 1990s only to violate the terms of his asylum and unofficially return to Northern Iraq himself as a guerrilla leader. He’s since been fighting to stay in Norway, even though he regularly blasts the Norwegian system, urges Islamic law and has been in and out of court on charges of inciting terrorism and making threats.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party, which shares government power with the Conservatives, was frustrated in his efforts to immediately deport Krekar. He failed, like government officials before him, to secure assurances that Krekar would not be tortured or executed back in Iraq. Until such assurances are agreed, Norway must continue to accommodate Krekar despite him being branded as a threat to national security.
Anundsen clearly believes that the terms he’s attached to Krekar’s pending prison release are the next best thing to sending him out of the country. Opposition politicians were forced to agree, but didn’t pass up the opportunity to criticize Anundsen and his party for making campaign promises to deport Krekar promptly that couldn’t be kept. A member of the previous left-center government, Bård Vegar Solhjell, said he wished Anundsen and the Progress Party “welcome to stubborn reality.”
Krekar’s longtime Norwegian defense attorney, Brynjar Meling, said he intended to challenge Anundsen’s orders and head back to court, in an effort to block efforts to prevent Krekar from settling back in Oslo.
While Norwegian police dealt with the security threats believed posed by both Bhatti and Krekar, more threats reportedly have been lodged against both Norway, Denmark and Great Britain. Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported that a website tied to IS has published threats against new targets, including Norway. TV2 reported that PST was working to determine whether the threats could be considered real.