Norway slow to convict terror suspects

AP , Saturday 3 Sep 2011

Each case against terrorists - even repeat terrorists - seems to have an "out" in Norway

Eleven people have been arrested under Norway's anti-terror laws since 2000, including the right-wing extremist who killed 77 people two months ago. Not one has been convicted.

The 22 July bomb attack and shooting rampage rocked the foundations of Norway's democratic society, which places high value on openness and civil rights. Officials conceded shortcomings in terror legislation in the Scandinavian country, and Norway's chief prosecutor predicted a range of changes, including tightened security.

"We cannot have a situation where it's possible to drive a van carrying a bomb to the prime minister's office and ... be parked there for several minutes before it explodes," Tor-Aksel Busch said.

Busch said the case of Anders Behring Breivik will force scrutiny of Norwegian sentencing practices.

"We have [maximum] verdicts of 21 years for defendants that have killed two, maybe three people," Busch told The Associated Press. "In this case, we have an inconceivable number beyond that."

Breivik has admitted to the July killings, but denies criminal guilt because he says the massacre was necessary to save Norway and Europe. If found guilty on terrorism charges, he faces 21 years in prison. An alternative custody arrangement — if he is still considered a danger to the public — could keep him behind bars indefinitely.

But a look at recent history suggests that finding someone guilty in Norway is not easy. Before the July attacks, suspects have only been arrested in four cases on suspicion of terror or terror financing but no one has so far been convicted under the terror laws, according to records obtained by The Associated Press in response to a request under Norway's Freedom of Information Act.

Norway, like other European countries, adopted terror legislation after 9/11. However, critics have pointed out loopholes, including the fact that planning an act of terror alone is not a crime. If two or more people are involved in planning, it becomes a crime of conspiracy. Breivik claims he planned and carried out the attacks on his own.

In Norway's first terrorism trial in 2008, three men were charged with plotting attacks against Israeli and US embassies in Oslo, which never took place. Two were acquitted for lack of evidence.

The third defendant was found guilty of complicity in an unrelated shooting at a synagogue in Oslo in 2006, but the court ruled that the incident, in which no one was hurt, was not an act of terror. A higher court later found him guilty of attempted murder, but the Supreme Court suspended the verdict due to a procedural error and he was released.

Last year, a Somali-born Norwegian who had transferred $33,000 to Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia was found innocent of funding terrorism. The court said he had not knowingly funded terrorist activities of an organisation that at the time was not classified as a terrorist group by the United Nations.

Instead, he was found guilty of breaking a UN arms embargo on Somalia and was given a fine. Two others arrested in the case were released by police after questioning. They were not charged.

In 2003, Mullah Krekar, the founder of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar Al-Islam, was under suspicion of funding and organising terrorism in Iraq from Norway. The case never made it to court but Norway declared him a threat to national security and ordered him deported. The decision was later postponed amid concerns he would face execution or torture in Iraq.

Last month, authorities filed terror charges against Krekar for making death threats against Norwegian politicians if deported. In Norway, as in neighboring Scandinavian countries, authorities tend to fight terrorism by disrupting plots rather than making arrests.

Last year, the detention of three suspected Al-Qaeda members was an aggressive departure from routine, in a case where the FBI and CIA worked closely with local authorities to unravel an alleged plot in Norway.

Mikael Davud, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak Bujak and David Jakobsen were arrested in connection with a plot against an unspecified Norwegian target. US and Norwegian officials believe the plot was linked to the same Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda planners behind thwarted schemes to blow up New York's subway and a British shopping mall.

Davud, the suspected ringleader, told police he had planned a bomb attack against the Chinese Embassy in Oslo and had used the two other suspects to obtain the ingredients for a bomb, but said they were not aware of the target, according to his lawyer Carl Konow Rieber-Mohn.

Security police said Bujak had indicated that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which caricatured the Prophet Mohamad, was the intended target. The trial is expected to open this fall.

With anti-terror measures under scrutiny, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg warned against a knee-jerk reaction, and urged the nation of 5 million to uphold its long ideals of peace and tolerance even as it had been "hit by evil." He appointed an independent commission to investigate the attacks and to submit its report by next August.

A survivor of the July 22 terror attacks, Stine Renate Haaheim, says she doesn't feel Norway needs to change its terror laws because of the attacks.

"Personally, I don't think so," the 27-year-old lawmaker told the AP. "We don't want to make any rushed decisions now. I think we have seen a lot of countries that have done that in the face of terror."

Haaheim said Norway needs time to reflect on what has happened, and remember those who died in the attacks.

"We have met bullets with flowers and showed that love is much more stronger than hate and speaking for myself; revenge is not in my thoughts," she said. "For me it is important to hold onto what I believed in before 22 July."

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