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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Drone drama sparks security warnings

Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl is urging all Norwegians to be on high alert and report any suspicious activity to police, as unidentified drones continue to fly over otherwise restricted areas. The airport in Bergen shut down Wednesday morning after more drone sightings, while calls went out for a total ban on all drones “until the security situation is clarified.”

Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl, shown here as she recently reviewed how Norway is patrolling its border to Russia, is calling on all Norwegians to be on the alert and report suspicious activity to police. “We all have a role to play” in Norway’s national security, she said at another press briefing this week. PHOTO: The Barents Observer/Thomas Nilsen

Airline traffic was disrupted once again when Bergen Lufthavn Flesland closed following the observations of one or more drones in the area during the night. Police in Bergen received reports around 4:45am about possible drones seen flying around Haakonsvern, the nearby naval base that’s home port for Norwegian frigates and other naval vessels.

Øystein Skaar, operations chief at the Bergen airport, said a decision was made to close air space over Bergen and airport operations ceased shortly after 6:30am. “There are clear indications that there have been drones,” Skaar told Norwegian Broadasting (NRK) at 6:45am. The no-fly zone extended for a five-kilometer radius around Flesland and airline departures were delayed until the airport was cleared to reopen more than two hours later.

The closure during the morning rush was enough to disrupt flight schedules “throughout the day,” Skaar said, with passengers told to expect both cancellations and delays.

Meanwhile, police in the mountain town of Førde northwest of Bergen received reports shortly after 6am of another possible drone sighting near Førde Lufthavn Bringeland. Police could later confirm that it wasn’t a weather phenomenon after checking with the state meteorological institute, and the airport also suspended operations, resuming them around 9:30am.

The drone disruptions are the latest in a series of observations that have been tied to methods of hybrid warfare, now against Norway after it emerged as the largest supplier of gas and other forms of energy to Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin is widely believed to be using energy as a weapon, as he tries to halt both Norwegian and European support for Ukraine after he launched his war against the country in February.

Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl is now calling upon all Norwegians to be on the alert and report any signs of suspicious activity or illegal intelligence gathering to police. Her calls came after police also have arrested at least six Russians in various locations around Northern Norway suspected of illegally operating drones and gathering photographic material of strategic infrastructure from power stations to oil platforms and military installations.

She has referred to the rash of drone sightings and arrests as part of “the consequences of the new security situation in Norway.” She also said at a recent press conference that they “underline the importance of the increased emergency preparedness we have implemented since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.”

Mehl expects more cases like drone sightings in the time to come. She said the police and the state police intelligence agency PST “are doing an important job … and it’s not surprising we’re seeing this type of (drone) activity” given the situation in Europe.

“Our intelligence and security services have indicated that foreign states may apply (complex threats) to create anxiety and uncertainty in Norway,” Mehl said. The threats can include “fake news, to create confusion and anxiety,” she said, in addition to “data attacks, to disrupt important societal functions” and “migration pressure, military activity intended to sow fear, covert military sabotage operations and GPS jamming.”

She claimed the government is “constantly monitoring the threat scenario,” with not only the police, military and PST involved but also the health ministry sharpening nuclear preparedness and making sure hospitals and health services “operate as they should.” Local governments are also sharpening municipal preparedness.

Mehl also stressed the importance of “greater awareness of these issues among the general public.” She urged ordinary Norwegian citizens to be more aware of potential threats “and how to protect ourselves.”

The government’s “top priority” now, she said, is to boost security, “but people can also contribute by being vigilant” and informing the police or PST if they see anything.

“The intelligence threat from Russia mainly targets power plants, and the oil and defense sectors,” Mehl said, stressing the PST has asked to be contacted about “any suspicious incidents near such facilities. This is not limited to drones, there could also be other issues.”

She also stressed, that “we need to remember there are many Russians living in Norway” and Norwegians should continue to “be inclusive and good fellow human beings. But we are not and must not be naive. We must be alert to suspicious activities.

“We all have a role to play here.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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