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)
Norway’s domestic security service, the Politiets Sikkerhettjjeneste (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 Gronland, central Oslo. Six months earlier, in September 2016, the PST warned of the “large potential for radicalisation also in the future...” (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, Politiets Sikkerhettjjeneste, BBC News, The Local)
[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 a Workers’ Youth League youth 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. (Source: Washington Post)
Radicalization and Foreign Fighters
The Norwegian security service, 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 Profetens Umma (ummah is the community of Islamic believers), which is based in the east of the country close to Oslo. Speaking to Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang, Profetens Umma spokesman Ubaydullah Hussain, a Norwegian of Pakistani descent, declared “absolute” support for the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and his belief that sharia should be implemented in Norway. In December 2012, Profetens Umma confirmed links with the now-banned British Islamist extremist group Islam4UK, led by radical preacher Anjem Choudary.(Sources: Politiets Sikkerhets-Tjeneste, Dagbladet)
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 future Prime Minister Erna Solberg. In November 2015, 13 members of Krekar’s organization were arrested in Norway, Italy, and Britain. The suspects are accused of recruiting for ISIS. (Sources: NBC News, CBS News)
While “Norway seems an unlikely place for Islamist extremism… [and] does not have radical mosques,” at least 60 fighters from Norway have travelled to Syria and Iraq. According to the Etterretningstjenesten (Norwegian Intelligence Service or E-tjenesten) that figure was 150 as of the start of 2015. The Soufan Group issued an official figure of 81 by October 2015. Throughout 2016, “less than a handful” of individuals had left Norway to fight abroad, according to the U.S. State Department. 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. 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, U.S. Department of State, Soufan Group, Politiets Sikkerhets-Tjeneste)
Norwegians fighting for the ISIS were radicalized in the Profetens Ummah.
Indeed, by early 2014, the PST reported, “[n]ever before have so many individuals left Norway to fight under militant Islamist groups in conflict areas.” According to E-tjenesten chief Kjell Grandhagen, some Norwegian Islamists have assumed leadership positions in ISIS. Grandhagen has stated that “Norwegians fighting for the ISIS were radicalized in the Profetens Ummah.” Grandhagen also highlighted the trend of returning fighters, emphasizing “a danger with returnees who can form cells in the West.” 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.” (Sources: Russia Today, Norwegian Government)
Apart from Syria and areas controlled by ISIS, the PST confirmed that a Norwegian citizen played a part in the Westgate mall terrorist attack that took place in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2013. The man has since been identified as Somali-Norwegian Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, raised in Norway and resident in Somalia since 2010. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 67 and wounded over 175. (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhets-Tjeneste, CBC News)
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. (Sources: Aftenposten, Telegraph, New York Times)
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. Thirteen 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. Led by notorious Algerian extremist commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, al-Mourabioun pledged allegiance to ISIS in September 2014. (Sources: News in English, Global Terrorism Database, Agence-France Presse, Guardian)
In 2016, Norway strengthened its travel laws by criminalizing traveling or attempting to travel abroad to fight on behalf of a “non-state actor.” The front-line of Norwegian domestic counter-extremism is the Politiets Sikkerhettjjeneste (PST), which falls under the jurisdiction of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police. Former lawyer and deputy judge Mary Benedicte Bjørnland was appointed PST Director General in June 2012. The PST stated in its 2014 report that Norway’s “greatest threat comes from a multi-ethnic extreme Islamist milieu in South-Eastern Norway.” (Sources: Politiets Sikkerhettjjeneste, The Local, Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, U.S. Department of State)
In its Norway country report for 2014, the international Financial Action Task Force (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.” (Source: FATF)
Norway has adopted strong legislation against “hate speech,” even relative to other European countries.
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 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)
The Telemark Battalion has been involved in the fight against the Taliban as part of NATO operations since 2003.
The oil and gas sector contributes 22 percent to Norway’s GDP and with 23,000 employees located in 36 countries, including in North Africa and the Middle East, the state-owned Statoil company continues to be a particular overseas concern for Norwegian authorities. Following the 2013 Statoil attack in Algeria, Norway decided to establish a counterterrorism unit led by the PST, with assistance from E-tjenesten (Norwegian Intelligence Service). (Source: Statoil)
Norway signaled its military commitment to confronting the extremist group ISIS in March 2015. The Norwegian Ministry of Defence confirmed the dispatch of an elite Norwegian Army infantry unit to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to help train Kurdish Pershmerga forces confront ISIS. The Telemark Battalion has been involved in the fight against the Taliban as part of NATO operations since 2003. The battalion is named after a famous successful Norwegian resistance sabotage mission on a heavy water production plant in the Telemark region of southern Norway occupied by Nazi forces during World War II. Around 50 soldiers are reported to be taking part in the mission. 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.” Norway’s contribution to battling international extremism overseas followed E-tjenesten chief Grandhagen’s comment one month before the Telemark announcement, when he stated, “we have no faith in those who think that this [ISIS] is an organization that will let itself be defeated militarily in the near future. They have all the qualities needed to stand militarily for a long time, both in the areas where they reside and as a base for international terrorism.” (Sources: European Commission, Daily Mail)