Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) is facing criticism for its reluctance to be more specific about terror threats posed by Islamic extremists. Not only will it not attach a number to how many extremists may be in Norway, it didn’t pass on warnings that an Islamic cleric suspected of having ties to terror group IS was on his way to Norway again last year.
“The man who’s the brain behind the (IS) terrorist’s gruesome acts in Paris and Brussels has directed his attention towards Oslo,” wrote a Norwegian-Moroccan woman to PST in April 2016, according to state broadcaster NRK. She was referring to Tarik Chadlioui, who at that point was already under investigation in Spain for recruiting new members to IS.
“Thanks for the tip,” responded PST to her text message. The Moroccan-born Chadlioui had already been in Norway at least three times before, according to NRK, speaking out on his conservative interpretation of Islam that calls, for example, for strict segregation between men and women in public. NRK reported that he spoke at the Rahma Mosque in Oslo in 2012, at events arranged by Center Rahma in 2013 and 2014 and in a hall in Oslo’s east-side district of Bryn under the name of Tarik Ibn Ali in May of 2016 before an audience of several hundred people.
Last week he was arrested by British anti-terror police in Birmingham. Spanish authorities accuse him of having recruited IS warriors by producing videos encouraging jihad. Chadlioui denies the charges. He’s attracted suspicion before, after one of the terrorists in the Paris attacks of 2015 reportedly listened to several speeches made by Chadlioui at a mosque in Paris. Dutch politicians tried to prevent him from speaking in Gouda in 2014 and British newspaper Daily Mail has tied Chadlioui to several extremist groups including Sharia4Belgium, Sharia4UK nad Dawa FFM in Germany.
“We would never have expected him to be jailed and charged with having ties to IS,” officials at the Rahma Mosque wrote in an email to NRK after refusing to be interviewed. They confirmed the Center Rahma mosque invited Chadlioui to speak in 2013 and 2014 and that he spoke in the mosque in 2012, “but wasn’t invited to Norway by us.” Asked why he was invited, the Center Rahma officials wrote that “Tarik Chadliou is a well-known speaker who has held speeches in more than 100 mosques all over Europe. Many Moroccans in Norway have heard his speeches about how to treat your parents, the happy family and other themes on YouTube. We wanted to hold an event in which the entire family could be entertained by his humourous and engaging speeches.”
The Norwegian-Moroccan woman who tipped PST about him clearly views him as a threat, telling NRK that “someone like him should have nothing to do in Norway. It was a setback that he came and that so many went to listen to him.” She has requested anonymity for her own protection, but told NRK that she sent various newspaper clips about him to PST along with links to videos where he glorifies dying for Islam and encouraging jihad.
“They (PST) called me and we had a long conversation,” the woman told NRK, “but then nothing more happened.” She’s disappointed that PST didn’t seem to do more, fearing Chadlioui has “brainwashed” many young people already, and thus poses a threat to Norwegian society. “He’s very charismatic and uses a lot of humour,” she said. “Therefore he’s very well-liked, especially among the young. He doesn’t recruit IS soldiers from the stage in public, but people who contact him privately are told they have an obligation to travel to Syria.”
PST wouldn’t comment on how they followed up the tip about Chadlioui. A PST spokesman claimed that such tips from the public are important. Some information is quickly dismissed, while other information can form the start of more comprehensive investigations. PST also denied comment on Chadlioui himself or on his arrest in the UK.
That has prompted some Norwegian politicians to react, including Member of Parliament Abid Raja of the Liberal Party, who told NRK over the weekend that PST should have warned about him. Fabian Stang, the former mayor of Oslo who now serves as a state secretary in the Justice Ministry for the Conservative Party, was also alarmed. Stang said it was “frightening” that a man with such extremist views has spoken publicly in Norway on several occasions.
Chadlioui has a Belgian passport and has lived in the UK since 2015, but Stang said it was nonetheless possible for such members of the European Economic Area to be stopped at the border. Urging people to go to Syria can be enough to raise charges of inciting terrorism, said Stang, who’s a lawyer himself.
“I don’t know what evaluations PST made,” Stang told NRK. “The most important thing now is that he doesn’t come back, and that if he comes back, he’ll immediately be stopped if he continues this type of activity.”
No numbers released, threat of terror still ‘probable’
PST has also been criticized for refusing to put a number on how many extremists may be in Norway. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported recently that police intelligence units in Sweden, Finland and the UK, for example, reveal how many Islamic extremists are in their countries.
“I see no reason for PST to hide the numbers they clearly have,” Mazyar Keshvari of the Progress Party told DN. “PST should re-evaluate its position and I’ll take this up with our delegation in parliament.”
PST claims such numbers would not yield “a correct picture” of the threat situation in Norway. It confirmed last month that “also in Norway there are Islamic extremists, both inside and outside organized groups, who sympathize with IS or al-Qaeda and who view Norway as among their enemies. There are people in Norway who … can have the will and the ability to carry out terror.”
PST just won’t say how many there are, nor would they provide any numbers when specifically asked by DN. “The individuals we follow in Norway will have various degrees of capacity and intention,” PST spokesman Martin Bernsen told DN, adding that they thus prompt varying degrees of concern. Quantifying their numbers “will not necessarily give the public a correct picture of the threat” they pose or “what challenges we face.”
He confirmed that some Islamic extremists arrived in Norway along with the refugee influx in 2015 and that they’re among those PST is “following up.” PST opted late last month to maintain its evaluation that the danger of a terrorist attack in Norway is “probable.”