Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) has registered the backgrounds of 137 local residents considered to be potentially violent Islamists. The vast majority, according to PST’s new analysis, are described as “social losers” and efforts to recruit them for terrorism have “stagnated.”
PST’s chief of analysis, Jon Fitje Hoffmann, told Member of Parliament this week that most potentially violent Islamists in Norway have low levels of education, irregular or no jobs, no strong religious ideology of their own and criminal records including substance abuse and violence. Such backgrounds can and have made them targets for recruitment by terrorist groups such as IS, but newspaper Dagsavisen reported that Hoffmann and his PST colleagues think recruitment has stagnated in Norway.
“We don’t really know why that (stagnation) has occurred,” Hoffmann said at a parliamentary hearing on preventing extremism, but he offered some possible reasons, according to Dagsavisen: “The police and volunteers have done a good job at addressing extremism. Several extremists have been convicted or are in custody. And many have been killed in Syria.”
Hoffmann noted that there can well be extremists and recruitment efforts going on that haven’t been uncovered by investigators, but he seemed encouraged by recent trends. “We don’t know whether this is a trend that will continue,” he cautioned, “and earlier recruiting has gone in waves, with comrades traveling together as foreign fighters. Many of those who have traveled (to Syria, for example) are very young and easily influenced.”
Several are school drop-outs and Hoffmann said they see few signs that they had strong religious interests, “but they latch on easily to religious ideology with a willingness to use violence.”
Identifying those in a ‘danger zone’
Hoffmann was presenting some of the results of a classified analysis that PST is still in the process of compiling. It has not yet been made public, so Hoffmann was sharing only parts of it this week. He was one of three people speaking at the hearing and he praised local Islamic groups that also have taken an active role in fighting extremism. Hoffmann said many young people “in a danger zone” have been identified and motivated “to take responsibility for their actions, more carefully evaluate what they’re told (by potential recruiters) and think for themselves.”
PST’s analysis chief said he wasn’t very worried about foreign fighters who have returned to Norway, either. “They don’t present an acute danger right now,” he claimed. “Many who want to travel (home to Norway) aren’t allowed to.”
Vegar Martinsen, who works with the Oslo Police District’s organized crime division, said he thought the police have a “good overview and control” over the radical Islamist milieu in Norway at present, which earlier was fronted by the group Profetens Ummah. That group has declined in recent months, with some of its former members killed or simply withdrawing.
Ingjerd Hansen, who works with Martinsen at identifying and working with potential recruits, said it was vitally important that minority groups in Norway have confidence in the police and the courts. Police reportedly worked with 110 adults and children last year who were seen as vulnerable, and police are also trying to work with newly arrived asylum seekers, counseling them on Norwegian regulations and traditions and working to prevent violence, also within families and close relationships.