A tearful 24-year-old terror suspect from Østfold County in southeastern Norway declared himself not guilty as his trial began in Oslo Monday morning. He’s reportedly one of at least 18 Norwegians charged, indicted or convicted of having ties to the terror organization IS or other groups, but he called the charges against him both “absurd and frightening.”
The Fredrikstad-area resident was met by police when he landed at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen last year with bullet wounds in his foot after having been in Syria. He was arrested in December, charged with planning terrorist attacks and supporting IS. His 45-year-old father is now under arrest as well along with several others.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that he gave a tearful account from the witness box of why he traveled to Syria to take part in what he called humanitarian relief efforts. “My intention was never to commit terror,” he testified. “I had a pure intention to help the Syrian people. I felt I had a moral and religious obligation to help.” He also said he wanted to get away from “bad friends” and a drug milieu in the area where he lived, in Greåker.
He told the court he viewed the charges against him as “absurd and frightening. I’m disappointed over being indicted for this.” He’s under indictment for having operated as a foreign warrior in Syria, first for IS and later for the Al Qaida organization in Syria, Jabath al-Nusra. Prosecutors contend he was wounded in battle and maintained contact with one or both of the terrorist groups after his return to Norway, telling them that he could obtain either money or material for them.
‘I was a hypocrite’
He claimed he simply had heard that “many went to Syria to help,” and that they collected money and clothing. “No matter where I went, Syria’s suffering was a theme, at school, in the mosque and in the newspapers. And the whole world just stood and watched,” he told the court. “I was a hypocrite, like the cowardly people who just watched. How could we call ourselves Muslims?”
Others charged with terrorist acts have also claimed they only went to Syria to offer humanitarian aid. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Monday that Norway’s police intelligence unit PST now believes around 80 “foreign warriors” have traveled from Norway to Syria and that of those, 18 have been charged, indicted or convicted under Norway’s anti-terror laws. PST also believes the actual number of Norwegians fighting in Syria and Iraq, or supporting extremist organizations like IS, is actually much higher. Around 25 of those traveling have returned to Norway and 15 have been confirmed killed in battle.