The threat of a concrete terrorist attack carried out by Islamic extremists remains high in Norway, according to the latest evaluation by the state police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste). PST is also worried about the threat posed by Russian efforts to recruit Norwegians as spies.
Terrorist attacks inspired by Islamic extremists can influence followers in Norway to carry out similar attacks on Norwegian soil, according to PST. In its new threat evaluation for 2015, presented in Oslo on Wednesday, PST cited “politically motivated violence from Islamic extremists” as the posing the biggest threat because extremist circles continue to radicalize themselves in Norway and attract new followers.
Around 70 people with Norwegian passports are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight as jihadists, but PST thinks the actual number can be much higher. Jihadist groups who support terrorist organizations abroad were cited as another cause of ongoing concern that will continue throughout the year.
PST noted that groups like the brutally violent Islamic State (IS) are actively highlighting their recruited warriors back in their homelands, including Norway, also as a means of recruiting new members. “Radicalization and recruitment are an ongoing challenge,” PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland said when presenting the new threat evaluation. She said much of the Islamic recruitment efforts take place in central regions of eastern Norway, but it also goes on all over the country.
The extremists aren’t only targeting youth with immigrant, especially muslim, background. “Ethnic Norwegians are also being recruited,” Bjørnland said, but added that “we must not give in to the fear the terrorists try to create. It’s important that the extremists’ misuse of religion is challenged.”
Russian and Chinese recruitment, too
Bjørnland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Russian intelligence agents’ efforts to recruit Norwegians as spies also represents a “serious threat” to national security. For the first time, PST pointed to both Russian and Chinese attempts to extract information, but Norwegian intelligence officials believe Russian spying has the greatest potential to damage national interests.
“In a long-term perspective, it’s the Russian threat we describe as most serious,” Bjørnland told NRK. “The threat has the potential to weaken us as a nation, to weaken our ability to make decisions and rob us of important knowledge. We can be exposed, for example, during negotiations.”
She said Russian spies are trying to obtain information about Norway’s and NATO’s military capacity and strategies. Such information could strengthen Russia’s own military, she said.
Consulting firms at risk
Bjørnland warned that Russian agents are trying to recruit employees of government ministries, Norwegian embassies and delegations abroad, along with politicians, researchers and employees of consulting firms. Consultants, she said, can gain access to companies and government agencies, and consulting firms can keep their client lists confidential, potentially hiding other countries’ interests. The consulting firms themselves may not know who their customer really is.
PST also described Norwegian computer systems as poorly secured. Sensitive information can thus be stolen.
“It’s important to be aware of our own vulnerability,” Bjørnland told NRK. “We are an open society, a value we hold dear. At the same time it makes us vulnerable.”