Oslo police were posted all around City Hall on Thursday, when more than 900 people attended the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. No one wanted a repeat performance of a security breach last year, when a young man got past ticket gates and later stormed the stage in a demonstration over a lack of human rights in Mexico.
The ongoing threat of terrorism was also behind heightened security at Peace Prize venues. “Given the situation in Europe and earlier experience, we have jacked up security to a higher level than we otherwise would have had,” Johan Fredriksen, staff chief for the Oslo Police District, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Police and security guards were taken aback by last year’s security breach, which experts later claimed put both Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi at risk. Also in the audience were the Norwegian royal family, the prime minister and her government, ambassadors and host of other dignitaries.
The young Mexican activist managed to come right up to the prize winners before former Nobel Committee leader Thorbjørn Jagland reacted and security guards rushed forward to take him away. Malala, herself an earlier victim of a terrorist’s attack, kept smiling and seemed unaware of being in any danger. The young Mexican was deported less than a week later.
“It was an incident we can’t live with,” Fredriksen said. “This year we have many new routines, we have doubled ticket control posts and have basically made the system very tight.” The ceremony also featured extra police and security personnel at all entrances to City Hall and along the streets around the building. Several streets were cordoned off entirely, and the public was kept behind security fences set up along the sidewalks. Armed police were also placed several other spots around downtown, especially in the area between the Grand Hotel, where Nobel Peace Prize winners stay, and the Royal Palace.
“We have lots of patrols on the streets who are visible, and also patrols who are not so visible,” Svend Bjelland, operations leader for the Oslo Police District, told NRK. “What’s important to us is to be able to tell the public that Oslo is a safe capital today as well as other days, and we will make the arrangements as good an experience as possible for everyone.”
Islamic extremist taken into custody
News also broke Thursday, shortly before the Peace Prize ceremony began, that the spokesman for an Islamic extremist group in Norway, Ubaydullah Hussain, had once again been arrested. By late afternoon he’d been ordered held in custody for at least the next four weeks, while police investigate charges that he allegedly had threatened a witness in another case and had recruited jihadists for the extremist group IS.
It was unclear whether the arrests were in any way related to the Peace Prize activity in Oslo this week. Six years ago, when newly elected US President Barack Obama came to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, police arrested another Islamic extremist who had been charged with making threats and planning terrorist attacks. His defense attorney suggested the police simply wanted to keep him locked up during Obama’s visit.