Right-wing threat matches Islamists’

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Norway’s police intelligence agency PST now believes that it’s just as probable that a new terrorist attack will be carried out by right-wing extremists as by Islamic extremists. Politically motivated violence by both extremist groups has emerged as the biggest threat currently facing Norway.

Justice Minister Monica Mæland, also new to her post, said it was important that PST’s threat evaluation be actively used. “Public and private players must evaluate its relevance and consequences for their own operations, and consider precautionary measures,” Mæland said at Tuesday’s press conference. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet

Hans Sverre Sjøvold, the new chief of PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste), is especially concerned over what far right extremists write on the Internet, because it can inspire others. “They rank (their) terrorists by how successful they’ve been (in carrying out attacks),” Sjøvold told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s quite scary to read what’s written on their (right-wing) websites. Many become inspired by it.”

Sjøvold and his colleagues at PST noted that the number of terrorist attacks carried out by right-wing extremists in western countries doubled in 2019 from the year before, while those by Islamic extremists declined. He said there was “clear negative development” among right-wing extremists in Norway last year, beginning with a white Australian man’s attack on a mosque in New Zealand last March.

Norway has already suffered attacks carried out by ultra-conservative and anti-immigrant extremists, both of them young white Norwegian men from relatively prosperous backgrounds. The so-called “manifesto” written by the mass-murderer who killed 77 people in Oslo and on the island of Utøya on July 22, 2011 “has spread,” Sjøvold said. “We’ ve had examples of terrorist acts in Norway and we see increased activity on the Internet and in closed chat sites.”

PST issued its annual evaluation of threats to national security just a week after Norway’s Supreme Court upheld convictions of two Norwegians charged with posting racist and otherwise hateful and threatening remarks on social media. PST warned how right-wing extremists often blend humour with hatred, and how anonymity mixed with a lack of self-censorship allows them to test limits and break barriers.

PST also believes right-wing extremism in Norway has broken new ground in terms of networks and ideology. The intelligence agency detected an increase from 2018 in expressions of support for right-ring extremism and its terrorism.

Social media enables spread
Radicalization to the far right and encouragement to carry out violent attacks on selected targets mostly occurs, according to PST, through social media, which enables the the spread of propaganda and anonymous communication between like-minded people. Seemingly innocuous symbols and references to incidents in films and online gaming are combined with irony, sarcasm and ideological symbols, also to urge attacks.

The new evaluation from PST stresses that those making threats and urging violence seldom carry out such acts themselves. “A few, though, can let themselves be inspired and move from words to action,” according to PST’s report.

PST had actually raised its evaluation of the right-wing threat a few weeks before a young man from the affluent Oslo suburb of Bærum, Philip Manshaus, killed his step-sister who’d been adopted from China and then headed for Bærum’s only mosque, heavily armed and with a video camera taped to his helmet. His attack failed and Manshaus, now in jail and awaiting trial this spring, later was reportedly ridiculed on right-wing websites.

The intelligence agency, charged with monitoring national security at the domestic level, denied it erred when rating the likelihood of a right-wing terrorist attack as “not very probable” last year, only to raise it to “possible” and maintain that level now. “We’ve had a development that began with the attack in Christchurch (New Zealand) in March last year,” said Arne Christian Haugstøyl, leader of PST’s counter-terrorism group, at the press conference, calling the New Zealand attack “a driver that we hadn’t foreseen.”

Targets include minorities, liberal politicians
The  most likely right-wing attacks are “first and foremost” likely to be carried out by lone assailants targeting gathering places of Muslims and other non-Western immigrants in Norway. The goal, according to PST, will be to injure and kill as many as possible.

Other targets include politicians or other officials viewed as being positive towards towards immigration and those they feel “threaten Norwegian culture.” Jews, Asians, other non-Caucasians and homosexuals can also be targets, according to PST. The weapons most likely to be used are guns, explosives and vehicles.

PST is now placing the likelihood of attacks by right-wing extremists and Islamic extremists on an equal footing because of the rise of the far right and its “transnational network,” and the “weakening” of Islamic extremists. “We see that the so-called kalifat has fallen, and there’s less recruiting activity,” Sjøvold told NRK, adding that intelligence and security officers all over Europe have paid lots of attention to Islamic extremists.

PST also noted that 13 of Norway’s own radical Islamists who have returned to Norway are all convicted and sentenced to prison. Of the roughly 20 others who traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the terrorist group IS, international arrest warrants are issued for 10 of them.

Russia, China and Iran still post threats, too
In addition to politically motivated violence, PST also views espionage and digital attacks as the next most serious threats facing Norway. PST expects more spying against Norway and its politicians, businesses, natural resources, defense and preparedness operations, along with research.

Espionage by Russia, China and Iran was once again singled out as having the “greatest damage potential,” but other countries’ “concealed activities” can also threaten Norway and individual citizens, according to PST’s evaluaton report. PST predicted that several Norwegians can be the targets of “hateful, harassing and threatening incidents in the year to come. For some individuals, this activity will be so extensive that it will affect their participation in the public debate.”

Cathrine Thorleifsson of the University of Oslo’s center for research into extremism (C-REX) shares PST’s concerns and noted how young people today grow up with the Internet and social media. She warned there “can be a dark side to this,” where individuals can be subject to “radicalization efforts, antisemitic conspiration theories and propaganda.” She warned against over-exaggerating the threats, but noted there already are “a few thousand” Norwegian user forums for right-wing extremist ideology and humour.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund