Norway’s police intelligence agency PST, officially charged with evaluating and handling the most serious threats against national security, is now under investigation itself. At issue is how PST handled and failed to ward off last year’s deadly attack by another young Norwegian right-wing extremist.
A key area under probe is how PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) responded to tips that it received about a young Norwegian man said to have unusually “conservative ideas,” a full year before he carried out racially motivated attacks. The intelligence agency reportedly had been warned by some fellow students and acquaintances of defendant Phillip Manshaus, who killed his adopted Chinese step-sister and then fired shots inside a mosque last August. Only a few men were at the mosque at the time and they managed to overpower Manshaus before he killed anyone else.
Police and PST have confirmed receiving tips about Manhaus, who later has cited right-wing political motives for his attacks. Police have claimed the tips were “checked out” by police before being shelved a few weeks later. Benedicte Bjørnland, director of Norway’s state police who formerly headed PST, said after Manhaus’ attack and arrest that she wanted a more thorough investigation of how the police handled the attack and how they had followed up on the tips a year earlier.
Danish probe leader
Now the external probe is underway by a seven-member expert commission led by Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen, leader of the Institute of Strategy at Denmark’s defense academy. Nielsen has also been a director of Denmark’s Police Intelligence Service (PET).
“A central point for us is whether PST has the confidence of those who can be targets of right-wing extremists’ activity,” Nielsen told newspaper VG. Norwegian police were quick to post guards at mosques around the country after the attacks last August, and claim it’s important that Muslims and other minorities in Norway feel secure.
PST itself now regards ultra-conservative right-wing extremists as posing just as large a terror threat as Islamic extremists. Norway’s own experiences with deadly terrorism have come from the far right, not least on July 22, 2011 when another young white Norwegian man killed 77 people in twin attacks on the Norwegian government and the Labour Party’s youth summer camp. Norwegian police have also noted that right-wing terrorism is rising worldwide. A mass shooting against apparently Kurdish targets in Germany Wednesday night has been linked to a racist manifest posted by the suspected German attacker before he, too, was found dead along with his mother.
Encouraging input from the public
Dalgaard-Nielsen said the Norwegian police want their own threat evaluations to in turn be evaluated by experts outside “the Norwegian security milieu.” Her commission is also calling for input from people who were directly affected by the most recent attack in August 2019, and has posted a press release on PST’s own website that asks both individuals and organizations “with something they want to speak with the commission about” to take contact.
The commission’s mandate is to evaluate both “operative contributions” and how threats and tips are handled and followed up,” while also identifying what can be learned from last year’s attacks. The right-wing assailant in the attacks, meanwhile, has been formally indicted for both his attack on the Al Noor mosque in Bærum and for murdering his step-sister because, he testified, she was Chinese and not Norwegian. His trial is scheduled to begin in May.