Despite concerns about Islamic extremists returning from fighting abroad, and the threats many pose against their homelands, two courts in Oslo have released Norway’s most high-profile jihadist Arfan Bhatti from the custody sought by police. “Bhatti is a completely free man,” his defense lawyer told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Bhatti, who had a long criminal record in Norway before he turned to Islamic extremism, had been arrested immediately upon arrival at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen earlier this week. He was returning after more than two years in the Middle East, where he reportedly went to fight in the Syrian civil war but wound up in a Pakistani prison, convicted of having contact with the Taliban.
Already warned Norway
He was released from prison in Pakistan last August and quickly started urging others to become jihadists (holy warriors) on his Facebook page. He also warned Norway against taking part in the fight against the notoriously brutal jihadist group IS, known for cutting off the heads of countless victims.
Bhatti was initially prevented from returning to Norway because his presence on international lists of suspected terrorists made him ineligible to fly on commercial airlines. The restriction was recently lifted, however, and Bhatti landed back in Oslo on Wednesday.
His longtime defense attorney John Christian Elden has told reporters that police were waiting for Bhatti at the door of the aircraft and arrested him in connection with charges filed against him in 2012 for allegedly abusing his former wife and several of their children. She still lives at a secret address in Norway as part of a witness protection program, and Bhatti was slapped with restraining orders aimed at preventing him from trying to contact them.
Police wanted to confine Bhatti
He took off for the Middle East before facing the charges of domestic violence, and police claimed that was the reason he was immediately arrested upon returning to Norway. Elden and terrorist experts, however, believe the police are more interested in confining Bhatti and distancing him from other radical Islamists in Norway. Several have called him “dangerous.”
The police sought to keep Bhatti in custody for at least another four weeks and asked a local court for remand custody on the grounds they feared Bhatti would avoid the charges. The local court refused, however, to keep Bhatti in prison, claiming they saw little danger that he would leave the country. Police appealed immediately and Bhatti, who refused to be photographed in connection with Friday’s court hearing, was held for a second night at the Ila Prison west of Oslo. The police’s appeal was rejected Friday afternoon and Bhatti was released.
“He’s glad to be released,” defense attorney Elden told NRK. “He hasn’t understood why he was arrested by police.” Elden claimed Bhatti came home to Norway merely to visit his family: “He is a Norwegian citizen in Norway. Now he’s come home to visit family. I don’t know for how long. He travels between Pakistan and Norway.” He still faces charges on the domestic violence case, however, and police are seeking an indictment.
Bhatti grew up in Oslo and became a member of the Young Guns gang as a teenager. He later was in and out of prison on charges from stabbings, extortion, violence and making threats. He sprang to national notoriety in 2006 when he was charged, and later convicted, after firing shots at a synagogue in Oslo. He was acquitted, however, of having planned a terrorist act.