Members of the terrorist organization IS not only called Norway’s foreign ministry but also sent more than a dozen emails over the past eight months, accompanied by steadily more gruesome photos of how they were abusing a Norwegian hostage. The terrorists resorted to what Norwegian officials called “disgusting and barbarian” methods, as they unsuccessfully tried to pressure the government into sending them millions of US dollars in ransom money.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday how the terrorists from IS went about trying to spread fear and not least make Norwegian officials feel guilty for not meeting their demands. After gaining access to a timeline from Norway’s foreign ministry charting how the hostage situation developed, Aftenposten could describe IS’ brutal tactics that nonetheless failed to sway Norway’s refusal to give in to terrorists’ extortion.
Initially kidnapped by ‘helpers’
It’s believed that 48-year-old Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad of Porsgrund, whose execution was reported by IS on Wednesday, was actually abducted by men who had responded to his requests for help to cross the border into Syria in late January. Authorities don’t think the unemployed Grimsgaard-Ofstad, who had been living in Oslo at the time, traveled to the Middle East to become a jihadist but rather had simply engaged himself deeply in the Syrian crisis and traveled there despite warnings against doing so.
According to Aftenposten’s account of the foreign ministry’s own timeline, Grimsgaard-Ofstad wound up as a hostage and apparently was turned over to IS in March. On February 1, his initial abductors had sent a photo of him with a demand for ransom via a middleman outside Syria. A few days later came a more specific demand, for “several” million US dollars.
Between February 1 and March 28, when a phone call came in to the ministry from a new group of kidnappers, Norwegian officials worked intensely to determine who the initial kidnappers represented, and establish contact with them, either directly or indirectly. On February 5, more than seven months before the hostage situation was made public, the ministry set up a special crisis team to deal with the hostage situation, and Norwegian police launched a formal investigation the next day.
Transferred in mid-March
They believe Grimsgaard-Ofstad was transferred from one group of kidnappers to another in mid-March. The telephone call to the ministry on March 28 led to direct contact between the new group and Norwegian officials via email. The hostage’s family in Norway, who have said they had no means of meeting the millions of dollars initially demanded, reportedly was kept apprised of all developments in the case.
The hostage-takers’ next set of demands arrived on April 14, for what Aftenposten described as “considerable sums of money.” The demands also now included an order that Norway withdraw from a coalition against IS (also known as ISIL and ISIS) and that several named prisoners be released. The Norwegians refused to go along.
Five more emails arrived from Grimsgaard-Ofstad’s abductors between May 4 and June 15, this time with threats that their hostage would be injured if Norway didn’t declare itself willing to pay the ransom. Aftenposten reported that these mails included audio files in which Grimsgaard-Ofstad himself delivered a similar message on behalf of his abductors.
After no ransom was offered or received, the abductors sent a new mail on June 20 accompanied by a video of their hostage delivering another message on their behalf and featuring pictures showing him to be “seriously injured.” Foreign Minister Børge Brende confirmed at a press conference Wednesday night that Grimsgaard-Ofstad was “gravely abused” and that his abductors had sent photos of the “lemlestelsene (mutilations) that they’d carried out on him, to pressure us.” Aftenposten refrained from describing the mutilations, but the Norwegian word lemleste literally translates to cutting off limbs, generally arms or legs.
That was followed by another email just two days later with more threats that Grimsgaard-Ofstad would be mutilated further if the demands for ransom were not paid. They weren’t. Another mail on July 19 brought more threats and on August 6 came a new video showing that Grimsgaard-Ofstad had been subjected to “further serious injuries” by his kidnappers. The August 6 email also included a threat that he would be killed if Norwegian officials failed to pay. The kidnappers also claimed they would publicize how Norway, by refusing to pay the ransom, had failed to rescue one of its own citizens.
More threatening mails arrived on August 13, with a photo showing Grimsgaard-Ofstad holding a recent newspaper to prove he was still alive. More emailed threats arrived at the ministry on August 20 and August 25.
On September 9 ISIL’s online magazine published its photo of Grimsgaard-Ofstad with a reading “Norwegian prisoner for sale.” That’s when Norwegian officials confirmed that the hostage situation had been going on for nearly eight months. The last sign that Grimsgaard-Ofstad was alive came on November 4 and this week ISIL’s online magazine published an item that reported he’d been executed.
Support for government’s refusal to meet IS’ demands
Grimsgaard-Ofstad’s family has publicly thanked Norwegian officials for how they handled the hostage situation, and family members have not complained that the Norwegian government refused to pay ransom. Nor have any opposition politicians criticized the government, or suggested that ransom demands from IS should have been met. IS has recently taken responsibility for the bombing of a Russian passenger jet and deadly attacks in Beirut and Paris, and been said to be waging war against civilization itself.
“It’s impossible for us to understand the uncertainty and fear the family has lived with during the past several months,” said Foreign Minister Brende Wednesday night, calling IS’ actions “cold-blooded murder.” Both he and Solberg from the Conservative Party were firm in declaring that Norway will not bow to hostage-takers’ demands in such situations. Another one is currently going on in the Philippines, where a man from Bergen is being held along with four others by the insurgent group Abu Sayyaf, which also is demanding millions of US dollars in ransom money. Solberg has also declared that Norway won’t meet the demands.
“We, Norwegians of all religions, stand together against barbarians and extortionists,” Solberg declared. “Terrorists will not set our agenda.” Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, who leads the opposition in Parliament and is a former foreign minister himself, also condemned the kidnapping and murder of the Norwegian, who was killed along with a Chinese hostage. “This is a brutal and disgusting act,” Støre said, while Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Socialist Left party agreed. “This is meaningless barbarianism that has hit one of our citizens,” Lysbakken said. “Our thoughts go to his family.”