Norway’s annual Constitution Day celebrations on the 17th of May are likely to unfold amidst special anti-terror measures this year. Higher threat levels are prompting top state and city officials in Oslo to make “concrete evaluations” of risk factors and security levels around what’s traditionally been a children’s parade.
Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) raised the terror threat level following an attack in Stockholm and a bomb scare in Oslo just before last week’s Easter holidays got underway. Norway’s traditionally unarmed police quickly began carrying weapons again and PST’s new terror threat level is in effect for at least the next two months.
PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland noted, moreover, that the Islamic terrorist group ISIL especially encourages attacks during holiday periods. “It’s relatively clear that we need to view our 17th of May (holiday) in connection with that,” Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen told news bureau NTB. “I can well understand that folks can feel a sense of uncertainty.”
Terror threat raised from ‘possible’ to ‘probable’
He stressed that Norwegians can’t “go around and be afraid,” but he urges everyone “to be alert and vigilant,” especially when in large gatherings of people. The new terror threat level means that according to security experts, an act of terror is now more “probable” than “possible.” Amundsen insisted that Norwegian authorities have “good systems for handling situations like this, and are quite well-prepared.”
Researcher Cato Hemmingby at Norway’s state police academy pointed out that terrorists are preoccupied with symbolism. “There can be large gatherings of people on other days during the year, but there can well be those who are more motivated to act on special days of national celebrations (like Norway’s 17th of May celebrations),” Hemmingby told NTB. “That’s because then they can get that extra symbolism they’re out after.”
Amundsen said his ministry, which is in charge of Norway’s state police system, was making “concrete evaluations of (anti-terror) measures in connection with holidays and the 17th of May.” He said he didn’t “want to speculate” about what kinds of measures will be viewed as necessary.
City and state working together
The top political leader of Oslo’s city government, Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, told newspaper Aftenposten that city officials and the police were working together on extra security measures for the 17th of May. He told NTB that the measures would be in accordance with the higher risk and threat levels set by PST.
The 17-year-old arrested and charged after last week’s bomb scare remains in remand custody while PST continues its investigation. He was found in possession of what police called a “primitive” explosive device consisting of lighter fluid and nails. A judge in Oslo ordered him held for at least two weeks with no access to communications or media. He has denied having any connections to ISIL and claimed he is not a radical Islamist himself.
Justice Minister Amundsen contended that Norway “is a fundamentally safe society,” but he repeated the need for awareness and said the threshold for reporting suspicious activity or incidents should be low.
“We have an open and democratic society but are also, because of that, vulnerable,” Amundsen said. “Therefore we shouldn’t be naive.”