UPDATED: A Norwegian man who worked for a French company in Syria was arrested while changing planes at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris last week. He was charged with financing terrorism after allegedly paying off terrorist groups in the area around the French company’s plant, to ensure its safety, but was later released.
French newspaper Le Monde reports that Jacob Wærness of Norway was one of eight suspects in French authorities’ probe of the company Lafarge, which had a cement plant in northern Syria. Wærness, who formerly worked for Norway’s police intelligence agency PST, worked as Lafarge’s chief in charge of risk assessment from 2011 to 2013.
He most recently has been working for The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) in Switzerland. A spokesman for his employer told state broadcaster NRK on Friday that Wærness was released from custody after questioning by police and has also been released from his six-month contract with DCAF, which involved assessing the current security situation in Libya.
Wærness, who speaks Arabic, has earlier claimed on state broadcaster NRK’s Saturday night talkshow Lindmo, and written in a book he published in 2016, that the area around Lafarge’s plant in Syria fell into lawlessness after civil war broke out in 2011. He’s was charged for allegedly paying the terrorist group IS in order to keep the plant operating. He has denied making any direct payments.
“The only times I paid out money was ransom for hostages, to groups within the Free Syrian Army,” he told NRK last summer. He also said it was necessary for him to have contact with the insurgents who eventually took over control of the area in Jalabiya, Syria.
Le Monde reported that Wærness refused to cooperate with French investigators in France, and wanted them to come question him in Switzerland or via Skype. Norwegian media was unable to obtain any immediate comment from either Wærness, his defense attorney or PST. NRK reported that Wærness is also one of 75 Norwegians subject to arrest in Syria for various alleged offenses during the course of the civil war. A spokesperson for Norway’s foreign ministry said Wærness had declined consular assistance after his arrest in Paris. The ministry referred all further questions to French police.