On July 22, 2011, Norway suffered the “most devastating attack on a Scandinavian country since the second world war.” Far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and injured over 300 in two devastating “lone wolf” attacks. The U.S. Department of State has expressed concerns over the growth of right-wing extremism. However, according to the Norwegian Police Security Service, “extreme Islamism is still the most serious terrorist threat in this country.” (Sources: Economist, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, thestar.com, U.S. Department of State, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste)
The Norwegian Police Security Service (<em>Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste</em> or PST) reported in 2014 that the most important task would be “to prevent persons with close links to Norway from becoming involved in terrorist attacks.” According to a PST press release in July 2014, “the terror threat from extreme Islamists against Norway and Norwegian interests is increasing.” Since November 2014, PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland has raised the threat level three times. The second increase occurred in the aftermath of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris when it was reported that Norway and Denmark could be targeted next. The third increase occurred in April 2017, when the likelihood of an attack was raised from “possible” to “probable” after the discovery of a homemade bomb in Grønland, central Oslo. According to the PST 2019 threat assessment, “[e]xtreme Islamist groups will still represent the most serious terrorist threat in 2019.” The PST also lowered the terrorist threat level to “possible,” in the event that extreme Islamists attempt to carry out terrorist attacks in the country.(Sources: Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, Politiets Sikkerhettjjeneste, BBC News, The Local, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste)
[T]he terror threat from extreme Islamists against Norway and Norwegian interests is increasing.
The PST has identified the presence of an “extremist milieu in South-Eastern Norway,” led by a few individuals who wield a great deal of influence. It is thought that between 60 to 150 Norwegians have emerged from this setting as radicalized fighters to join Islamic extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. (Source: News in English)
Norway and Scandinavia’s worst extremist attack occurred in July 2011, when far-right white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb and on the same day massacred teenagers and adults at the Norwegian Workers’ Youth League’s annual summer camp. Seventy-seven people were killed and over 300 wounded. Eighteen months later, five Norwegian Statoil employees were killed in the Algerian hostage crisis perpetrated by the Islamic extremist group al-Mourabitoun. In response to these attacks, and especially in view of extensive Norwegian oil interests around the world, Norway announced the creation of a new counterterrorism unit in early 2013. (Sources: Telegraph, New Yorker, Guardian, Wall Street Journal)
Radicalization and Foreign Fighters
According to the PST, Islamist extremism continued to represent the most significant terrorist threat in 2018, particularly Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks by one or more individuals. Still, Norway lowered its overall terrorist threat level from “probable” to “possible” in evaluating the likelihood of an attack. Other European countries, including France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, face a greater threat from groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. ISIS’s loss of territory in Syria and Iraq has also led to reduced radicalization efforts and support for radical Islamism in Norway. The presence of extreme Islamist milieus declined, especially compared to the period between 2012 and 2015. There have been fewer public demonstrations and propaganda activities since several key ISIS figures are either imprisoned or were killed in Syria and Iraq. Nonetheless, existing propaganda is still accessible and used to radicalize and plan attacks by small groups and lone individuals. The PST believes that radicalization efforts continue to occur primarily on the Internet, at asylum centers, in prisons, and at religious congregations that can provide a platform for foreign radical imams. (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste)
The PST has identified the Oslofjord area of Oslo as the primary area for extremist radicalization and recruitment. The most notable Islamist group operating in Norway is the Ummah of the Prophet (Profetens Ummah), which is based in the east of the country close to Oslo. In 2010, Profetens Ummah emerged as an informal group demonstrating against the daily newspaper Dagbladet, which published a caricature depicting Prophet Mohammed as a pig. In September 2012, approximately 150 sympathizers of Profetens Ummah demonstrated in front of the U.S. embassy in Oslo in response to the controversial short-film The Innocence of Muslims. The group drew increasing attention through its conducting of street dawa to proselytize and provocative demands for so-called sharia zones. In December 2012, Profetens Ummah confirmed links with the now-banned British Islamist extremist group Islam4UK, led by radical preacher Anjem Choudary.
Speaking to Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang, Profetens Ummah spokesman Ubaydullah Hussain, a Norwegian of Pakistani descent, declared “absolute” support for the ISIS and his belief that sharia should be implemented in Norway. Hussain has been labeled the “door-opener and ISIL’s voice in Norway” by Norwegian state prosecutor Frederik G. Ranke. In February 2014, he was convicted of hate speech against Jews and given a 120-day prison sentence. In July 2014, Hussain was charged with incitement to violence but was later acquitted. In December 2015, he was arrested and charged for recruiting terrorists and helping foreign fighters by providing both equipment and advice. In what became Norway’s first trial over the recruitment of potential ISIS fighters, Hussain was sentenced to 9 years in prison in April 2017. The judgement was confirmed at the Borgarting Court of Appeal in January 2018. (Sources: Dagbladet, Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, NRK, Hate Speech International, The Local, News in English, Store Norske Leksikon)
Another prominent Norwegian-based Islamist group is Rawti Shax, a Sunni Muslim terrorist network that also maintains cells in other European countries including Germany, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom, as well as Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It seeks the establishment of a caliphate in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) and the implementation of sharia. Its leader is the “celebrity jihadist” Mullah Krekar, a U.S.- and U.N.-sanctioned terrorist who found sanctuary in Norway as a Kurdish refugee and subsequently threatened the country’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg. In 2012, Krekar was sentenced to five years imprisonment for making repeated death threats against Norwegian politicians and the Kurdish people, and was released early in January 2015. In November 2015, 13 members of Krekar’s organization—as well as Krekar himself—were arrested in Norway, Italy, and Britain. The suspects are accused of recruiting for ISIS, and their sentences still pending. (Sources: NBC News, CBS News, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, Reuters)
While “Norway seems an unlikely place for Islamist extremism… [and] does not have radical mosques,” approximately 100 fighters from Norway have traveled to Syria and Iraq, some of which have even assumed leadership positions with ISIS. According to the Norwegian Intelligence Service (Etterretningstjenesten or E-tjenesten or NIS) that figure was 150 as of the start of 2015. The Soufan Group issued an official figure of 81 by October 2015. In fall 2017, the PST registered its last attempt to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. As of February 2019, approximately 30 Norwegian foreign fighters remain in the conflict area, but are unlikely to return to Norway. These numbers are fewer than other Nordic countries but not insignificant for a country of only 5 million that is known for its political tranquility. According to a September 2016 PST report, one in every five radicalized Muslim is a convert to Islam. Approximately 90 percent are not ethnically Norwegian, and 61 percent immigrated to Norway as children or youths. While the vast majority of radicalized Norwegians are young men, the Internet has apparently also facilitated the phenomenon of “a larger number of women…becoming more active members of the extreme Islamist Oslofjord milieu.” The report also noted that almost three-fourths of radicalized individuals started their radicalization following the start of the Syria conflict, and warned of a “large potential for radicalisation also in the future….” (Sources: New York Review of Books, Washington Post, Soufan Group, U.S. Department of State, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, Russia Today, Norwegian Government)
Norwegians fighting for the ISIS were radicalized in the Profetens Ummah.
Right-wing extremism in Norway is characterized by unorganized and loosely connected networks, with the exception of the Nordic Resistance Movement (Den nordiske motstandsbevegelsen, or NRM). The NRM is a transnational, neo-Nazi organization with official chapters operating in Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Formed in 1997, the NRM seeks to merge all Nordic countries into a single, nationalist-socialist state, either by elections or through revolution. The group is openly racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and pro-Hitler—and has carried out violence targeting gay people, ideological opponents, and Muslim refugees. (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, Hate Speech International, NRM, National Vanguard, Yle, Valmyndigheten, The Times, Expo Idag, Washington Post)
Far-right extremist groups have recently grown in numbers and increased their visibility offline and online by engaging in hate speech and issuing threats. However, the NRM and other far-right groups in Norway are unlikely to carry out major violent or terrorist attacks in the near future, according to the PST. Rather, these groups focus on organizational development and recruitment of new members. Still, some far-right extremists’ broad interpretation of self-defense could increase the propensity for violence in tense situations like public demonstrations. Moreover, the affinity of firearms and weapons by far-right extremists is also of concern. Norwegian far-right groups also direct their hatred and frustration towards government authorities for “allowing and facilitating the destruction of the Norwegian way of life and culture by various minority groups,” including non-Western immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and LGBTQ people. (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste)
Left-wing extremism is of marginal concern in Norway, despite some activity since 2017, including exposing and occasionally harassing those they define as neo-Nazis. Left-wing extremists usually resort to non-violent means, like disturbance of public order and counter-demonstrations. However, some see violence as an efficient method to reinforce their political convictions. The PST is also concerned about the increasing links between leftist extremist groups throughout Europe, some of which are highly violent European groups and may inspire Norwegians to pursue violent actions against opinion opponents. (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste)
Major Extremist and Terrorist Incidents
Between 1970 and 2010, there were only 16 small-scale terrorist attacks that took place in Norway. In this span of 40 years, one person was killed and 13 injured. In fact, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Terrorism does not recognize these 16 acts as “terrorism” at all, stating in 2008 that “Norway has been spared acts of terrorism on Norwegian soil.” It was only in late 2014 that police began carrying guns. Norwegian police at Oslo’s airport and in major cities were again issued with firearms in response to a truck attack on April 7, 2017, that killed four people in Stockholm, Sweden, Norway’s neighbor. (Sources: Huffington Post, CODEXTER, Reuters)
2011 Oslo and Utøya Attacks
On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb adjacent to Prime Minster Jens Stoltenberg’s office and the Norwegian Oil and Energy Department building. Eight people were killed and a further 15 injured. One and a half hours later, Breivik arrived on the small island of Utøya, which was hosting its annual summer camp for the Norwegian Workers’ Youth League (AUF). The AUF is a large political youth organization that is affiliated with Norway’s Labour Party. Dressed in the uniform of a policeman, Breivik methodically proceeded to massacre 69 participants who were mainly teenagers.
Hours prior to the attacks, Breivik disseminated his “manifesto” entitled “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence,” condemning multiculturalism, Islam, “cultural Marxists” and the Norwegian Labour Party. On August 24, 2012, Breivik was sentenced to the maximum permitted term under Norwegian law of 21 years in prison. The sentence may be extended by up to five years, for an indefinite number of times. Breivik has been held in near-isolation in a prison in Skien, south of Oslo, due to concerns that he could radicalize others. In 2016, Breivik claimed that the conditions violated human rights, but Norway’s Supreme Court ruled otherwise, and the European Courts of Human Rights in Strasbourg also refused his appeal. (Sources: Aftenposten, Telegraph, New York Times, Washington Post)
In Amenas Gas Plant Hostage Crisis
On January 16, 2013, then al-Qaeda-affiliated Algerian Islamist group, al-Mourabitoun, infiltrated the Tigantourine gas plant near In Amenas in eastern Algeria, 800 miles from the capital city Algiers. The gas plant was part-owned by the Norwegian state-owned Statoil company (now Equinor). During the four-day siege, 13 Norwegian hostages were taken, four of whom managed to escape to a nearby camp. Out of the 40 workers killed by al-Mourabitoun, five were Norwegian employees. On January 19, Algerian forces ended the raid, killing or capturing the hostage-takers. Led by notorious Algerian extremist commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, al-Mourabitoun pledged allegiance to ISIS in September 2014. (Sources: News in English, Global Terrorism Database, Agence-France Presse, Guardian, RAND Corporation, BBC News)
Intelligence and Security Infrastructure
The Norwegian Police Security Service (Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste or PST) is Norway’s domestic security service, which is primarily responsible to prevent and investigate crimes that may pose a danger to national security. The PST operates parallel to the country’s police service and reports to the Minister of Justice. The Norwegian Intelligence Service (Etterretningstjenesten or E-tjenesten or NIS) is the country’s only foreign intelligence service and reports to the Minister of Defense. The Norwegian National Security Authority (Nasjonal Sikkerhetsmyndighet or NSM) is a cross-sectoral professional and supervisory authority, responsible for areas such as security administration, physical protection, document security, personnel security, as well as IT security certification and monitoring. The NSM reports to the Minister of Defense (military sector) and the Minister of Justice (civil sector). The Norwegian Defence Security Department (Forsvarets Sikkerhetsavdeling or FSA or NORDSD) is responsible for the operational security of the armed forces, including threats associated with espionage, sabotage, and terrorist acts that may affect military activities or national security. The FSA reports to the Minister of Defense. (Sources: European Network of National Intelligence Reviewers)
With 20,000 employees located in 30 countries, including in North Africa and the Middle East, operations of the state-owned Equinor company (formerly Statoil) continues to be of particular concern for Norwegian authorities. Following the 2013 Statoil attack in Algeria—that killed 40 people, including five Statoil employees—Norway established a counterterrorism unit led by the PST and with assistance from the NIS. In 2014, the Joint Counter Terrorism Center became fully operational, devoting significant resources to identifying, tracking, and taking action against Norwegian citizens intending to travel to and from Syria and Iraq to participate in fighting. (Source: Wall Street Journal, Equinor, European Commission, U.S. Department of State)
The 2011 Oslo and Utøya attacks prompted several changes to Norway’s terrorism law and emergency preparedness legislation. In 2013, Norway adopted provisions to close the “lone offender” loophole, which required proof of a large conspiracy for a terrorist conviction. The new law also criminalizes the receipt of terrorist training. Moreover, Norwegian laws criminalize conducting or planning to conduct a terrorist attack and providing support to a terrorist organization with money, material, recruitment, fighting, and related crimes. The maximum prison sentences are 30 years for serious terrorism offenses. In 2016, Norway adopted amendments to the Penal Code that strengthened its travel laws by criminalizing traveling or attempting to travel abroad to participate in military activities in an armed conflict, for example to fight on behalf of a “non-state actor.” (Sources: U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State)
In May 2016, Norway agreed to share fingerprint information in criminal investigations with the European Union and the United States as part of the Preventing and Combating Serious Crimes data-sharing agreement. Norway has also explored the opportunity to share Passenger Name Record (PNR) data with the EU and simultaneously developed a national PNR system. In November 2016, Norwegian police piloted an automated biometric identification system, which officials aimed to implement nationally in 2018. (Source: U.S. Department of State)
Norway has adopted strong legislation against “hate speech,” even relative to other European countries. In February 2014, former Profetens Ummah chief Ubaydallah Hussain was convicted of hate speech against Jews and given a 120-day prison sentence. However, Hussain was released immediately because he had already served most of that time in custody. In a further case brought against Hussain by the PST, he was again arrested in October 2014 for incitements to violence. However, he was acquitted of all charges. According to Norwegian associate legal professor Bjørnar Borvik, “[t]here are reasons to believe that a change has come in the Supreme Court’s stance and that hate speech is less protected than it was earlier.” Despite Norway’s strong legislation, around nine out of ten cases are dismissed. This approach reflects Norway’s overall ethos in counter-radicalization efforts, which emphasizes “reform rather than punishment […] to help guide young people away from radicalization and potentially negative influences, and to inspire them to achieve their goals through mainstream processes.” (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhettjjeneste, Associated Press, Verdens Gang, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence)
In November 2016, the Norwegian government launched the 2016-2020 Strategy against Hate Speech. Part of the strategy aims to create arenas for dialogue and raise awareness of the consequences of hate speech, as well as facilitating the identification, investigation, and conviction of those who incite hatred. (Source: Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality)
Norway has adopted strong legislation against “hate speech,” even relative to other European countries.
Counter Terrorist Financing
Norway has been a member of the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) since 1991. In its most recent Norway country report of 2014, the FATF commended Norway for taking “good initiatives to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.” However, FATF also highlighted important weaknesses, including poor policy coordination and the lack of an overarching anti-money laundering (AML) strategy. On AML, the report specifically pointed to deficiencies regarding a possible terrorist/non-profit sector nexus, stressing “a lack of measures to ensure that terrorist organisations cannot pose as legitimate NPOs [non-profit organizations], or to ensure that funds/assets collected by or transferred through NPOs are not diverted to support the activities of terrorist acts or terrorist organisations.” The Norwegian government has since enacted legislation to tighten holes in possible NPO enabling of terrorist and extremist groups. However, for non-profits that are not classified as “foundations,” registration is not mandatory and fundraising is likewise recorded on an unregulated “voluntary register.” Ultimately, FATF concludes that “[g]iven the largely voluntary nature of registration of NPOs in Norway, sanctions appear to be limited to removal of benefits accruable to NPOs… [and] [i]t is not clear that the legislation explicitly provides for measures to sanction cases of non-compliance.” (Sources: FATF, FATF)
In March 2018, the FATF published an analysis report on Norway’s progress in addressing the technical compliance deficiencies identified in 2014 and indicated improvements in compliance. In October 2018, the Norwegian Anti Money Laundering Act and the Money Laundering Regulation entered into force, implementing most of the European Union’s 4th and 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive of 2015 and 2018, respectively. While Norway extended the AML regime to additional service providers, like virtual currency exchange service providers, a central register of beneficial owners has not yet been established. (Sources: FATF, FATF, Wikborg Rein Advokatfirma)
Although not a member of the European Union, Norway is part of the Schengen Area, which allows transiting throughout 26 European countries without formal border controls. However, Norway has implemented tighter border security during certain periods, most notably in July 2014 in response to unspecified but “credible terrorist threats.” Citizens returning to Norway were expected to show identification in the form of either a passport or international ID card, even for short trips to neighboring Sweden and ferry journeys to Denmark. (Sources: News in English, European Commission)
Norway also actively contributes to the EU’s Radicalization Awareness Network, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as the Global Counterterrorism Forum. In 2017, Norway co-established the Group of Friends at the United Nations on preventing violent extremism and supported the publication of a U.N. study on foreign terrorist fighters. Norway also co-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution 2178 on measures to address the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, and resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Office of the Prime Minister of Norway)
The Telemark Battalion has been involved in the fight against the Taliban as part of NATO operations since 2003.
Since the formation of the Global Coalition against Daesh in September 2014, Norway has contributed to the fight against ISIS on several fronts. Norwegian experts have been involved in analyzing ISIS’s sources of financing and helped blocking particularly those related to the oil and energy sector. The Norwegian military has provided training, advice, and operational support to Kurdish security forces in Iraq and local Syrian groups fighting against ISIS. Among the approximately 110 troops from Norway’s army and Special Forces are soldiers from the elite Telemark Battalion, which has been involved in the fight against the Taliban as part of NATO operations since 2003. Around 50 soldiers are reported to be taking part in the training mission in Iraq. According to a former U.S. Army sergeant, “this well-trained and disciplined unit of Norwegian soldiers would be able to make very short work of any ISIS soldiers they encountered.” The Norwegian military also deployed medical personnel to the coalition’s hospital in Erbil, and provided an estimated $345 million dollars in assistance in 2017 to address the humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria. In February 2018, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense announced its continued contribution to fight ISIS through the end of 2018, promising to maintain the number of troops at about the same level. Norway also expressed commitment to remain in Jordan for logistical support, and retain a limited number of staff officers at coalition headquarters. (Sources: European Commission, Daily Mail, Office of the Prime Minister of Norway, Ministry of Defence of Norway
In February 2018, Statista released results from a survey used to show how Norwegians felt about a terror attack occurring within the next five years in their own country in 2017. The results showed that 37 percent were “very concerned,” 29 percent were “concerned,” and 33 percent were “not concerned.” In June 2018, Norwegian media cited the results of the country’s Armed Forces’ population survey, which showed that Norwegians fear of terrorism and terrorist attacks has decreased since 2016. In fact, Norwegians have been more concerned about cyberattacks as well as general crime and violence in society than terrorism, according to the survey. (Sources: Statista, Norway Today)