Norway has uncovered information pointing to a potential terror attack against the country within days from individuals linked to the conflict in Syria.
“There is a concrete threat against Norway,” Justice and Public Security Minister Anders Anundsen told reporters in Oslo today. Security services have strengthened their presence at Norway’s borders, airports and train stations, acting police director Vidar Refvik said.
The news comes just two days after Norway marked the third anniversary of the massacre of 77 people, most of them linked to the Labor Party that was in government at the time, by Anders Behring Breivik. The 35-year-old, who is serving a 21-year prison sentence, has said his acts were meant to prevent the spread of what he called “cultural Marxism” and the “Islamization” of Europe.
Police have “received information that people with links to an extreme Islamist group in Syria may intend to carry out a terrorist act in Norway,” security service chief Benedicte Bjoernland told reporters. “Preliminary verifications in this instance strengthened the credibility of this information.”
The intelligence gathered suggests that a “potential terrorist attack” against Norway is planned “within a short period, probably a few days,” Bjoernland said. The security service is working to clarify details about the threat and where and when an attack could occur, she said.
More than 170,000 people have died and over 10 million have fled their homes since civil war broke out in Syria in March 2011. The United Nations and aid agencies say the conflict is the worst humanitarian disaster since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, with 6.5 million people displaced inside Syria and 3 million more seeking refuge outside the country.
Norwegian police are concerned about individuals coming back to the country from Syria with increased knowledge of weapons, combat training and a lower threshold for violence, Bjoernland said. The greatest threat to Norway is posed by extreme Islamists, she said. The suspect in the May 24 attack on the Brussels Jewish Museum is believed to be a former fighter in the Syrian conflict, Bjoernland said.
The threat to Norway, which is thought to be directed at the country rather than its interests abroad, is posed by a “limited, relatively small group,” she said in an interview.
Police estimate that about 50 people seen as posing a threat have left Norway to fight in Syria, spokesman Trond Hugubakken said in Oslo today. About half of those have since returned to Norway, he said.
In May, police arrested three Norwegian citizens on terror charges. The men, one of whom was born in Somalia and the other two in the former Yugoslavia, represented a threat to the country and its allies, police said at the time.
“Whether we’re talking about five days or seven days isn’t clear to us,” Bjoernland said today. “It’s a threat limited in time, and this isn’t going to last until Christmas, to put it like that.”
Police in the capital, Oslo, have implemented a series of measures aimed at reducing response times in case of emergencies, Johan Fredriksen, the district’s chief of staff, told reporters in the city. “We wish to prevent potential events, and want to handle them as fast as possible if they happen,” he said.