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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

PST ‘responsible’ for not pursuing warnings of Pride terror

The Norwegian Parliament’s disciplinary committee is criticizing Norway’s police intelligence agency PST for failing to follow up warnings of a terrorist attack on the country’s Pride celebrations in Oslo in June 2022. Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl was also criticized for not paying enough attention to victims of the attacks, which left two dead and wounded several others.

Flowers and flags piled up outside the pubs in downtown Oslo that were targets of an Islamic terrorist during Oslo Pride celebrations nearly two years ago. The terrorist attack left two people dead, several others wounded and thousands traumatized. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“We’re not looking for scapegoats here,” stressed committee leader Peter Frølich of the Liberal Party on Tuesday, when the committee’s conclusions were released. Frølich said it was important, however, to clarify the responsibiities of state agencies involved in efforts to fend off terrorism.

“We know that PST works hard to secure Norway,” Frølich said, “but when terror still occurs, we must learn from our mistakes and deficiencies in our work.”

The committee’s own investigation confirmed earlier reports that Norway’s military intelligence agency, known as E-tjenesten, had determined through its own anti-terror efforts that an attack against Pride celebrations loomed in one of the Scandinavian countries. One of E-tjenesten’s secret agents had made contact with an Islamic radical who warned of such an attack, and is now among those charged in the shootings that took place in Oslo on June 25, 2022.

E-tjenesten passed on the warning to PST, along with information that longtime Norwegian-Islamic extremist Arfan Bhatti could be involved. Bhatti had, among other things, published a photo of a burning Pride-flag on social media and was suspected of encouraging or abetting an attack on Pride celebrations. PST, however, didn’t take special steps to secure Oslo Pride or warn Oslo Police even as meetings between the intelligence agencies took place. PST officials have already acknowledged public disappointment in their work.

Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl addressed Norway’s national assembly last year on what was being done after the attack on Pride celebrations in 2022. Now she’s also being criticized for not doing enough to help victims of the attacks.  PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl, meanwhile, is politically responsible for both PST and Norway’s state police. The parliamentary committee isn’t directly criticizing her ministry’s work before response to the attacks got underway, but thinks she has failed to tend to the ongoing needs of victims and the gay community in general.

“Despite repeated attempts to engage her, it took nearly a year before the justice minister arranged a meeting with the Pride organizations and people affected by the attack,” Frølich stated. He added that a majority on the committee, except for Mehl’s own Center Party and its government partner Labour, “believes the gay community was not followed up well enough after the attack.”

The gunman himself, Zaniar Matapour, ended up being tackled by bystanders at the scene of his shootings. They held him down until police arrived. Matapour was quickly arrested, indicted and has been in police custody ever since but has never cooperated with authorities. His trial is currently underway in the Oslo County Court but he still refuses to testify or answer questions.

Four others are charged in the case, including the woman who allegedly leaked plans for an attack to E-tjenesten and Bhatti, who has a long police record of violence in Norway. He’s accused of both inspiring Matapour and helping to plan Matapour’s attack from Pakistan, where Bhatti has most recently been living. After a year-and-a half of legal delays, the now 46-year-old extremist was finally extradicted back to Oslo late last week and is being questioned in court this week.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has been covering much of the terror trial involving gunman Zaniar Matapour, charged with terrorism after his mass shooting during Oslo Pride celebrations in 2022. He still refuses to testify at his own trial. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Tuesday that Bhatti warmly greeted Matapour in the Oslo courtroom and called him a good friend. He firmly denies having anything to do with Matapour’s attack in June 2022, however, and otherwise refuses to answer prosecutor’s questions, responding only with belligerent questions of his own.

The parliamentary committee, meanwhile, has asked the government to improve its response to the attacks and further help victims traumatized by the shootings. “Our impression is that many of those caught in the attacks are still having problems, including depression and serious trauma,” Espen Evjenth, leader of the victims’ support group, told NRK. “Many haven’t been able to work for long periods. It’s urgent that we get an overview of people’s needs, and help them get back on their feet.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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