An 18-year-old Norwegian who grew up in Oslo has been ordered to remain in custody for at least the next four weeks, while police continue to investigate charges that he supported and was about to join a terrorist organization. He’s being held in partial isolation, denied access to news media, communication and visitors.
The teenager, arrested as he was boarding a flight in Sweden early Monday morning, denies the charges and demanded to be released. News bureau NTB reported that he arrived for his custody hearing on Wednesday wearing jeans and a hooded jacket, and seemed dazed by the media interest in his case. It ended up proceeding behind closed doors in an Oslo courtroom at the request of prosecutors.
Ties to Islamic extremist group
The terror defendant allegedly drove to the Landvetter airport outside Gothenburg in Sweden in the company of Ubaydullah Hussain, a young Islamist who is in court himself this week on charges of making threats and encouraging terrorist acts. Hussain has grabbed local attention in recent years as a spokesman for Profetens Ummah, a controversial organization both among Muslims and non-Muslims because of its extremist views and alleged efforts to radicalize youth. Hussain is defending himself by claiming his right to freedom of expression, but also that he never threatened anyone nor encouraged terrorist acts.
It remains unclear whether he’ll be charged with trying to recruit or radicalize the 18-year-old. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that friends he grew up with on Oslo’s east side, where he until recently lived with his single mother, were worried about his steadily stronger religious views. They told Aftenposten they tried to persuade him to break out of what they viewed as a radicalization process, but he refused.
He was arrested boarding a charter flight to Rhodes in Greece, usually used by tourists. Police believe he planned to travel from Rhodes on to Syria, to fight with the extreme Islamic organization IS. He reportedly claimed that he merely intended to carry out humanitarian aid work in Syria.
His defense attorney John Christian Elden, who also has been defending Hussain, denies there were any plans to join up with terrorists, and he continued to claim that his new client can’t understand why he was arrested or why he’s now in custody.
The case has also sparked controversy because the 18-year-old’s drive to Sweden with Hussain was filmed for a documentary being made by Norwegian filmmaker Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen, and police later seized the film as evidence. Prosecutors claim they had to preserve the film because Islamists threatened to destroy it, and that filmmakers aren’t entitled to the same protection as journalists regarding unpublished material.
Both press and film industry officials have lodged protests, calling the seizures a “scandal” and serious threat to the freedom and openness on which Norway’s democracy is based. It will be up to a judge to determine whether the film can be admitted as evidence.