Norway’s police intelligence unit PST received tips last year about the young Norwegian white supremacist who murdered his adopted ethnically Chinese step-sister and then attacked a mosque in Bærum during the weekend. PST didn’t take contact with him, even though he had access to weapons, and now they’re accused of not taking right-wing extremists seriously enough.
When PST put forth its threat evaluation for 2019, those behind it claimed it was unlikely that Norwegian right-wing extremists would carry out a terrorist attack. Rune Berglund Steen, leader of Norway’s center against racism (Antirasistisk senter) thinks that was a poor evaluation.
“I can’t understand how PST dares to call (the threats posed by white supremacists) as improbable,” Steen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. He said he was also disturbed “that they’re always downplaying the threat from right-wing extremists.” He believes they’re underestimating the danger of hatred.
The communications director for the largely secretive PST, Trond Hugubakken, responded that threat evaluations are issued after “comprehensive evaluations.” He told NRK that he found it “a bit strange to be criticized for how we do our jobs, from someone who has no insight into the manner in which we work.”
Hans Sverre Sjøvold, the former Oslo police chief who took over as head of PST earlier this year, confirmed at a press conference on Monday that it had received tips about Philip Manshaus, the 21-year-old who donned a uniform and helmet mounted with a video camera before he shot through the door of the Al-Noor Islamic Centre Saturday afternoon and kept shooting inside. Manshaus was quickly overmanned by two elderly Muslims at the center and no one was killed, but Manshaus is charged with murdering his 17-year-old step-sister Johanne Zhangjis Ihle-Hansen before he headed for the mosque.
Oslo police had forwarded tips about Manshaus’ white supremacist attitudes to PST and admitted on Monday that in hindsight, they should have better followed up on them. Sjøvold, meanwhile, claimed that PST’s evaluation of the right-wing threat had been sharpened earlier this summer, following what he called “negative development in the right-wing extremist milieu.” He cited “more right-wing terrorist attacks” internationally, along with development of “propaganda platforms like we haven’t seen earlier.”
Arne Christian Haugstøyl, a divisional leader at PST, told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday that PST “made several, thorough examinations of him, but our evaluation at that time (last year) was that there was no reason to go further them.” The tips were deemed as being “rather vague,” but both he and Sjøvold admitted there is now “all reason to go through how we handled this and how we didn’t manage to hinder this.”
Used the family’s hunting weapons
“It’s our job to prevent terror,” Haugstøyl told Aftenposten. “We did not succeed with that in this case.” Norwegian media has reported that Manshaus also had access to weapons kept by his family for hunting, and that he had taken part in shooting practice. Police have said the weapons he used in his thwarted assault on the mosque were “primarily hunting-type” rifles.
The police and PST in particular received some consolation from Stian Lid, a researcher at the Oslo Met who specializes in preventing radicalization and violent extremism. He thinks there’s good work going on against extremism in Norway, but that the work is highly challenging.
“One thing is that we haven’t managed to remove right-wing extremist thinking in our society that can inspire extreme acts,” Lid told NRK. Both open and locked communication platforms also spread extremist propaganda and participants rile each other up. Killing non-whites and non-Christians can be likened to scoring points, noted another terror researcher, and Manshaus was quickly ridiculed on some extremist websites for failing to kill his targets and thus botching his plans.
Lid also noted that fellow students at a high school Manshaus attended for a year had confronted him over his extreme attitudes and remarks that a “race war” was coming. “That shows how difficult it is to convince people or have any impact on their ideas and values,” Lid told NRK. “It says something about the challenges the police face.”