Security was being boosted around the Oslo City Courthouse this week as three Norwegian men go on trial for their alleged involvement with The Islamic State (IS) in Syria. It’s the first case that directly charges Islamic extremists in Norway with having fought for or supported a terrorist organization.
IS was included on the United Nations’ list of terrorist organizations in 2013 and has become known for its horrific methods of decapitating or burning its victims alive. As many as 100 Norwegians are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq and joined terrorist groups including IS.
Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) has charged the three men whose trial begins Tuesday with building up, taking part in, recruiting or economically supporting a terrorist organization under paragraph 147d of the Norwegian penal code. All three defendants, a 30-year-old Somalian-Norwegian and two brothers of a jihadist killed in Syria last year, face six years in prison if convicted.
“We believe we can present evidence that two of the men have taken part in the terror organization IS in Syria or Iraq, while the third man has contributed to IS through the purchase of equipment,” state prosecutor Jan Glent told newspaper Dagsavisen.
Two of the defendants are the 25- and 28-year-old brothers of Albanian-Norwegian Egzon Avdyli from Bærum, a former spokesman for the Norwegian Islamic group Profetens Ummah who was killed in Syria in April last year. One of them is being defended by attorney Svein Holden, who as a former state prosecutor co-led the case against Norway’s own home-grown right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. He went into private practice in 2013 in a major career change.
Now he has told reporters that his client will plead not guilty as charged but he declined further comment. Kjell T Dahl, defense attorney for the other brother, told newspaper Aftenposten that his client will testify “in detail when he gets his turn in court.” Fredrik Schøne Brodwall, attorney for the Somalian-Norwegian, said he client also would declare himself not guilty as charged.
Tapped homes and phones
Police and prosecutors, however, claim to have a solid case against all three men, after massive “communications control” that included eavesdropping of the defendants’ homes, cars and mobile telephones. They also have seized the defendants’ telephones, computers and external harddiscs. Dagsavisen reported that evidence against the men includes large quantities of jihad photos of the two brothers posing with Bastian Vasquez, the Chilean-Norwegian who has appeared in several IS videos and reportedly risen to a senior position in IS.
Dagsavisen reported the evidence also includes photos of the two brothers with the Chechnyan-Norwegian Abu Aluevitsj Edelviev, who was killed in a bombing in Syria in December. His pregnant widow later was reported as having blown herself up in a suicide bombing outside a police station in Istanbul in early January.
The Somalian-Norwegian defendant is believed to have traveled to Syria as early as August 2012 while the older Albanian-Norwegian followed in October. They reportedly fought for the Al-Qaeda group Jabhat-al-Nushra until moving over to ISIL, now IS. They have been under surveillance since returning to Norway via Turkey, where they applied for new passports at the Norwegian Embassy, allegedly after their old passports were held by the terrorist groups. The two claimed to have been on a car holiday around Europe. Dagsavisen reported that the Norwegian embassy alerted PST.
Arrested last year
All three men were arrested at their homes in Norway on May 27 last year, in a coordinated police action. PST believes the two eldest of the three were poised to travel back to Syria when they were arrested. All have been members of Profetens Ummah. Prosecutors have tied the youngest of the three to Islamic extremists in Kosovo and believe he purchased weapons parts, binoculars, camoflauge clothing and other equipment for his older brother in Syria. He was released after a month in custody and was at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen to receive another returning member of Profetens Ummah, former gang member and convicted felon Arfan Bhatti when he returned to Norway in January. Bhatti was immediately arrested, however, only to be released a few days later.
Other muslims in Norway have urged Norwegian media to stop giving the extremists in Profetens Ummah the publicity they allegedly seek. Doctor and commentator Mohammad Usman Rana reacted strongly, as did many of his fellow muslims, to statements made by a Profetens Ummah spokesman that media printing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed deserve to be put to death. “Islam deserves better than that such statements can go unopposed,” Lena Larsen, a specialist in religions, told news bureau NTB. Muslims in Norway are increasingly mobilizing against the minority of extremists, weary of the violent image and bad image they spread.