Norway’s usually unarmed police were strapping on gun holsters again this week, in connection with the 10th anniversary of the country’s worst attacks since World War II. The re-arming is meant to provide extra protection around memorial ceremonies for the 77 people killed by a right-wing terrorist on July 22, 2011.
Ceremonies will be taking place all over the country on Thursday, some of them attracting dignitaries including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He was Norway’s prime minister when a young Norwegian right-wing extremist bombed government headquarters in Oslo and then carried out a massacre at a Labour Party summer camp on the island of Utøya.
The twin attacks set off lasting trauma, with anguish and debate over blame and responsibility spilling over in the run-up to the 10th anniversary. Not everyone is satisfied that the terrorist was tried and jailed. Many feel a need for Norwegian leaders across the political spectrum to acknowledge that the attacks involved intentional brutality that was politically motivated by racism and white supremacy, also that they targeted Norway’s Labour Party and its youth organization AUF as well as Norway’s democracy.
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Jørn Schjelderup, divisional director at the state police directorate, said the decision to arm police nationwide was made “to ensure an overall practice for police preparedness” from July 19 until July 23. The re-arming also aims to secure events held in connection with Muslim celebrations of Id al-adha.
Norway’s police intelligence agency PST has rated the actual threat in Norway this week as “moderate,” meaning it’s “possible” that someone will try to carry out a new terrorist attack in Norway. Right-wing extremists are now viewed by PST as just as dangerous as Islamic extremists, while activity among the latter is currently considered low.
Police respond to racist vandalism
Trond Hugubakken of PST told state broadcaster NRK last week that there was no concrete threat against Norway. Police were quickly called on Tuesday, however, when a monument to 15-year-old Benjamin Hermansen, whose mother was Norwegian and father was from Ghana, was found defaced with the words Breivik fikk rett (Breivik was right) spray-painted on it. The tag was a reference to the July 22 terrorist who targeted the Labour Party because he thought its immigration policy was too liberal and had allowed too many immigrants into Norway.
Hermansen was the victim of an earlier racist attack when he was chased by two neo-Nazis and stabbed to death not far from his home in Holmlia in southeastern Oslo. The murder in January 2001 prompted huge demonstrations against racism in Norway, and the vandalism of a statue mounted in his honour spurred anger and disgust on Tuesday. Three members of the neo-Nazi group Boot Boys were later charged in Hermansen’s murder, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison.
“It’s terrible to see that Benjamin Hermansen’s monument at Holmlia has been tagged just before July 22,” wrote Prime Minister Erna Solberg on social media Tuesday afternoon. It makes me sad and furious, and shows how important it is that we stand up against racism every single day.”