UPDATED: The arrest of an 18-year-old Norwegian allegedly on his way to join the brutal terror organization IS early Monday also prompted police to show up at the home of a local filmmaker Monday night. They reportedly were looking for evidence against the teenager and seized unpublished material tied to a documentary featuring the teen’s trip. That’s set off strong protests from Norway’s press federation and other journalists.
Filmmaker Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen told state broadcaster NRK that he’s been working on a documentary about local Islamist Ubaydullah Hussain and the Islamist milieu in Norway. Newspaper Dagbladet reported that Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) seized material from Rolfsen’s project.
Had been invited along
Rolfsen confirmed that the 18-year-old, arrested while boarding a flight at Gothenburg early Monday morning, had traveled to Sweden with Hussain, and with Rolfsen’s team along to film their trip. Rolfsen said he wasn’t along on the trip himself, but it was the film shot and photos taken of the teenager and Hussain on their way to Gothenburg that PST wanted. Hussain himself allegedly had urged Rolfsen’s filmteam to cover their trip to Sweden, but Hussain also wanted the trip to be kept a secret.
“It was Hussain who wanted us to come along, but we didn’t know what would be happening,” Rolfsen told NRK. “We just showed up with men and cameras.” He said they mostly just filmed Hussain and the 18-year-old driving to Gothenburg.
Rolfsen told NRK that three civilian-clad officers from PST arrived at his home Monday evening and seized memory cards and the contents of a hard disc, apparently looking for photo evidence of the 18-year-old’s movements with Hussain. The police also searched his car and Rolfsen found it all very disturbing.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the documentary now,” Rolfsen told NRK. “People will be afraid to talk with me, and think I’ll go to the police.”
The secretary general of Norway’s press federation, Kjersti Løken Stavrum, said she was “shocked” by the raid against Rolfsen, as was Sverre Pedersen, leader of the Norway’s film federation. Both find it “highly problematic” that PST would seize unpublished material.
“When journalists or filmmakers work on investigations it’s critical that both sides have confidence in one another,” Pedersen said. “If this means that it’s legal for police to seize a filmmaker’s material, it can be serious for this form of documentaries.” Stavrum also cited the importance of protecting sources, and blasted PST’s seizure of unpublished material.
John Christian Elden, defense attorney for the 18-year-old who’s now in police custody, also said Rolfsen should have been protected by the right to protect his sources, in line with authors and journalists. It remains unclear whether a court will allow police to present the seized film as evidence.
Denies intention to join IS
Elden, who has defended Hussain in several other court cases in recent years, also said, meanwhile, that his new 18-year-old Norwegian client can’t understand why he was arrested while boarding a flight at Gothenburg’s Landvetter airport. NRK reported that the young man was believed to have had contact with Islamists in southeastern Norway, home to several other young Islamic converts who have traveled to fight in the Middle East. He reportedly had been under surveillance for some time.
Martin Bernsen of police intelligence unit PST confirmed the young “ethnic Norwegian” man was arrested “with help from Swedish police” and has been charged with violating Norwegian law against having ties with a terrorist organization.
“His young age was part of the evaluation to choose to arrest him before he traveled,” Bernsen told NRK. PST estimates that around 70 residents and citizens of Norway have traveled earlier to Syria to join IS, and around 15 have been killed.
The suspect, who lives in Oslo, is now back in Norway and faces a custody hearing on Wednesday. Elden told NRK that he denies having any plans to join terrorists “and doesn’t understand why he was arrested in Gothenburg.”