UPDATED: As Norwegians continued to stream to the French Embassy in Oslo over the weekend, to honor those killed in Friday night’s terrorist attacks in Paris, calls were rising to reverse last week’s order against police being armed on a regular basis. The calls were heard, and Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party now wants Norwegian politicians to consider permanently arming the police.
Anundsen, now awaiting a re-evaulation of the terror threat against Norway, could confirm on Monday afternoon that the order restoring an unarmed police in Norway had been reversed, at least temporarily. Norwegian police will be able to carry arms at all times until December 1, when the arming issue will be re-evaluated once again, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
“The question is whether we have entered a general phase where we simply must give up the luxury we’ve had of an unarmed police force,” Anundsen told NRK before the ban was lifted. A majority in Parliament last year rejected arming the police on a regular basis but went along with the temporary arming that was due to expire on Tuesday. “It’s very important that we’re not blinded by an ideal situation, because we actually live in the real world,” Anundsen said.
In the weekend aftermath of Friday’s deadly shootings and explosions in Paris, Prime Minister Erna Solberg initially claimed the order on Friday to once again disarm Norwegian police would stand. Despite a storm of criticism on social media, blasting the government for disarming police after the terror threat had been downgraded, politicians on both the right and left didn’t seem willing to budge on the issue.
On Sunday, Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) claimed it was “impossible” to prevent terror in an open and free society like Norway’s. PST officials worked through the weekend to look for any link between the Paris attacks and Norway, to monitor reaction to the attacks among Norway’s own Islamist extremists and to see whether Norway had any relevant information to share that could help their French counterparts. They found little, according to Jon Fitje Hoffmann, a high-ranking official at PST.
Fears that terrorists have infiltrated asylum seekers
By Monday morning, however, PST had been asked to evaluate the terror threat against Norway once again, and Solberg herself admitted that terrorists may have infiltrated the recent influx of asylum seekers to Norway. Concerns have been raised earlier by police in Kirkenes in Northern Norway, where scores of asylum seekers have been crossing the border from Russia every day. Police said they lacked capacity to adequately carry out security checks of all those arriving in Norway, with local police chief Ellen Katrine Hætta telling newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) last week that “there can be individuals coming into Norway who should not be roaming around freely.” She called it “an extremely serious situation.”
Solberg, who’s been working almost around the clock on the recent refugee crisis and critical negotiations over next year’s state budget, was also thrust like so many others into the latest crisis caused by the attacks in Paris. The attacks have deeply affected Norwegians, many of whom have close ties to Paris, and thousands streamed to the French Embassy over the weekend to pay condolences and show support. Solberg had to fight back tears during a press conference on Saturday, after noting that she had married in Paris and was “horrified” by the coordinated attacks on restaurants, a concert hall and France’s national football stadium.
After visiting the French Embassy to offer her own condolences on Sunday, Solberg flew to Kirkenes to meet with border officials and more asylum seekers. Police at Norway’s Storskog border crossing from Russia say they have registered people among the asylum seekers who can pose a threat. Their suspicions have been forwarded to PST for further investigation.
“I can’t say that we have received terrorists over the border, but we always have that in the back of our heads,” Tor Espen Haga of the police unit tied to immigration issues (Politiets utlendingsenhet) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
‘Operations planned … against other European countries’
Solberg was also facing claims Monday morning by French officials, including Prime Minister Manuel Vals, that new terrorist attacks can occur in both France and elsewhere in Europe in the days and weeks ahead. “We know that operations are planned and continue to be planned, not just directed at France, but also against other European countries,” Vals said on French radio station RTL Monday morning.
Anundsen, Norway’s justice minister, told DN he is taking the police concerns in Northern Norway “very seriously,” adding that “that’s why she (police chief Hætta) has received 25 new positions” to help check the background of asylum seekers entering Norway. Alarms rose over the weekend after officials in Greece claimed that one of the terrorists killed in the Paris attacks had entered Europe through Greece, posing as an asylum seeker.
Anundsen said PST had evaluated whether any dangerous persons had crossed the border into Norway from Russia and, as of last week, had determined there was no basis to believe they had. “But the fact that so many people are coming to the region can in itself create uncertainty,” Anundsen told DN. Anders Werp, deputy leader of the justice committee in the Parliament for the Conservatives, also shares Hætta’s concerns and was sorry that the sheer magnitude of the refugee influx into Norway in recent months made it difficult to address all aspects of it. He’s now calling for more surveillance of extremists in Norway who have raised PST’s suspicions.
Solberg, meanwhile, refused to comment on speculation that NATO, of which Norway is a member, will be pressured into joining or leading attacks in Syria and Iraq on the terrorist organization IS, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks. “That’s a very serious question (regarding whether the attacks in Paris will unlease NATO’s ‘one for all and all for one’ principle),” Solberg told DN. “That’s speculation I won’t get into for now.”