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PST boss ‘aware people are angry with us’

Norway’s police intelligence agency PST has been bashed lately after it became known that it was tipped in mid-June about a potential terrorist attack in Scandinavia, but didn’t pass it on to local police. Six days later a gunman started shooting at Norwegians out celebrating Oslo Pride, and PST later landed in trouble.

Norway’s national police intelligence ageny PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) is responding to criticism after it failed to pass on a tip about a possible terrorist attack in Scandinavia. Six days later an Islamic extremist gunned down people celebrating the annual Pride festival for the gay community in Oslo. PHOTO: PST

PST’s new chief Beate Gangås has now acknowledged both the criticism over how it handled the tip, even though it was vague, and the subsequent public anger, especially within Oslo’s gay community. Two men sitting in a gay bar were killed and many others were wounded.

“There is of course reason to question why we didn’t manage to prevent the attack,” Gangås told newspaper Aftenposten last week. “We are also raising the same questions. We are our own worst critics.”

Gangås also said she “understands” that many are angry with both PST and the police, even though they arrived quickly at the scene and, with the help of members of the public, quickly subdued and arrested the gunman. He’s since been identified as an Islamic extremist, Zaniar Matapour, allegedly working with the radical Islamist Arfan Bhatti, who was also recently charged in the case. Bhatti, who has a long police record, is believed to have traveled to Pakistan shortly before the shooting occurred and an international warrant has been issued for his arrest.

PST chief Beate Gangås is a former chief of police in Oslo, and shown here with former Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr (left) and the leader of Oslo’s city government Raymond Johansen, when they mounted a joint effort to crack down on random street violence. Given a recent rash of shootings in Oslo, it hasn’t been successful. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

“We can’t guarantee that terrorist attacks won’t occur,” Gangås told Aftenposten. “At the same time there’s an expectation that we communicate in a manner that people understand, and that we do what we can to protect groups that can be targets of a terror threat.”

That includes the organizers of Oslo Pride, who recently met with Gangås and analysts at PST. They wanted answers to 19 questions, in order to maintain confidence in PST. Pride leader Dan Bjørke in Oslo told Aftenposten that it’s difficult to understand why PST didn’t pass on information it had received about a possible terror threat, especially to Oslo Police, who weren’t informed about the threat until two days after the shooting occurred on June 25.

“We think PST understands our frustration,” Bjørke told Aftenposten, but he worries that the intelligence agency lacks insight and competence regarding the gay community and threats against it. Gangås doesn’t fully agree.

“We collect information from abroad and nationally, to evaluate the situation within vulnerable groups,”  she said. One major challenge for PST is that the information received is often classified and can’t be passed on, but she wants more direct contact with groups that can be targets.

“I want to tell them things we can talk about,” Gangås said, adding that it’s “not strange at all that targeted groups want and need information.” She also wants information from them, not least because the gay community is viewed as a target of terror from both Islamic and ultra-right-wing extremists.

“To the gay community, I want to say ‘give us information. If you’re worried or receive threats, let us know,” Gangås said. She doesn’t think PST has underestimated threats against the gay community, adding that “there’s no doubt” the various groups making up the community “are in focus both among right-wing extremists and the IS (Islamic State) milieux. That’s been shown also in attacks internationally.”

She still won’t elaborate on the tip about a potential attack that PST received last June, but it reportedly could have occurred anywhere in Scandinavia, not just Norway or Oslo. Gangås confirmed that it came from Norway’s international intelligence agency linked to the military, called Etterretningstjenesten. “We had no information about the timing (of any attack) but it proved to be a fight against the clock,” she said, adding that PST “will get back to the details” after it’s presented with an evaluation of how it was handled.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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