UPDATED: Norway’s civilian police intelligence unit PST has, for the first time, gone public in recommending that Norwegian police be armed at all times. PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) thinks a state commission that advised against permanent arming last spring had an “imprecise” picture of today’s terror threats. Norway’s justice minister has now followed up by ordering a temporary arming of police at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, for the next three months.
Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen has long supported arming police in Norway. Current law, however, only allows temporary arming for specific periods of time.
On Thursday he announced that at least police on duty at OSL Gardermoen will be armed with hip holsters, as they have on earlier occasions. The temporary arming order may later be extended to other airports.
“The background is that Gardermoen is a target, with large open areas that large numbers of people pass through every day,” Amundsen said. “If anything should happen at Gardermoen, the potential for damage is great and it would put critical infrastructure out of operation.”
PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday that Norway’s justice ministry, which is responsible for the country’s state police, should order all Norwegian police to carry arms at all times.
“Developments in jihadic terror on European soil have had a negative development,” Bjørnland told NRK. “There’s been an increase in the number of attacks. We see that these attacks are targeted at the general public, with weapons such as vehicles, knives, axes or firearms, where it’s necessary for police to be able to react quickly to stop the terrorist attacks.”
She strongly disagreed with the verdict of the commission that advised against permanent arming of Norwegian police, which traditionally have been unarmed. The commission turned down general arming last march, and claimed that the current system, in which police on patrol have firearms locked in their vehicles, was the best solution. Bjørnland told NRK on Wednesday that the commission’s description of the terror threat was “imprecise” and not in accordance with current reality as PST sees it.
‘Every second counts’
PST wrote in response to public hearings on the arming issue that in its view, “the threat picture has changed considerably in recent years. Norwegian society must relate to the prospect that terror can occur here as well, and that it could be carried out in ordinary public arenas.”
PST went on to state that “in these critical situations, every second counts. To say ‘no’ to the arming of Norwegian police is akin to accepting the risk that lives will be lost during the time it now takes for police to arm themselves.”
Bjørnland told NRK that the commission’s and police officials’ data, on which they disarmed police, was outdated and irrelevant.
Arne Jørgen Olafsen, deputy police chief in Norway’s large police district covering the eastern part of the county, was a member of the commission. He claimed PST was its most important source of information when the commission recommended against arming. The rash of terrorist attacks since March have clearly heightened the terror threat, he said,
Justice minister keen on arming
Police chiefs in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim have also expressed a desire that police carry arms at all times. Police stationed at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen have complained that they’d have to use precious time to arm themselves in the event of a terrorist attack.
Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen thinks the current situation, in which police are unarmed, is intolerable. He also wants general arming of police at all times.
“It’s absolutely necessary, to create the security we need in Norway,” he said. He took PST’s recommendation seriously.
“PST is a major, important player,” Amundsen told NRK. “Their recommendation weighs heavily and will be important as we take this further.”