Norway’s police intelligence unit PST has revealed that it expelled a suspected terrorist from Norway last year, believing the suspect intended to carry out an attack within Norway’s borders. In its annual assessment of threats against Norway, PST otherwise thinks the chances for a serious attack have declined.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen, responsible for PST (Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste), said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that there had been a “careful downscaling” of PST’s terror assessment for 2016. He noted that PST now believes an attack is “possible,” as opposed to its assessment of “probable” last year.
One reason is that the PST believes Norway’s own radical Islamists have lost some of their strength, both in terms of numbers and their ability to carry out an attack. Several radical Islamists from Norway have also been killed in Syria and Iraq, PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland noted.
She confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), however, that PST had expelled “a person” believed to be on the verge of carrying out a terrorist attack in Norway. NRK reported the suspect was not part of the Norwegian Islamist milieu.
“We have had situations where we have reason to believe that we, at an early stage, have stopped an individual who intended to commit a violent and extreme act,” Bjørnland told NRK.
The expulsion occurred in the first half of 2015 and Bjørnland described it as “a specific situation, and the person has been expelled from Norway and is no longer in Norway.”
She declined to say what type of attack was believed to have been planned. “But we had concerns at an early stage,” she said. “The person was arrested and eventually expelled by the authorities.”
She wouldn’t say whether the suspect had sought asylum in Norway, only that the potential attacker was identified, arrested and expelled in accordance with Norwegian immigration law.
PST believes that Islamic extremists continue to pose the single biggest threat to Norway, but local groups like Profetens Ummah have been weakened, with several of their members affiliated with the brutal group IS killed in action or jailed. A group spokesman objected to PST’s characterization, claiming they were still “solid and strong as before” despite PST’s “witchhunt,” which has only “motivated” them. NRK cited police sources, though, as saying the group only has around four or five members at present.
PST characterized ultra right-wing, anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner organizations as posing a bigger threat of violence, pointing to fires set at some local asylum centers and the rise of violent right-wing extremist groups abroad. In its assessment for 2016, PST believes the numbers of right-wing extremists will grow and “become more active” as they recruit others. Some Norwegian extremists are believed to have traveled to Ukraine and attached themselves to pro-Russian insurgents or Ukrainian militia groups, while others may carry out violent acts in Norway.
“The numbers of right-wing extremist sympathizers in Norway who aren’t part of an organization have grown,” Bjørnland said. Many, she said, are motivated by last year’s refugee influx: “It’s ideologically important for them to fight immigration,” she said, with PST analysts claiming the extremists put forward conspiracy theories and claims that immigrants have a plan to take over, change or destroy Norwegian society.
Bjørnland also reported more growth in spying on Norway by foreign powers, which poses another threat to Norwegian security. Russia has figured high on the list of countries spying on Norway but Bjørnland was more restrained than some of Norway’s other neighbours in characterizing the evaluation of any threat from Russia.