The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) just published in February its yearly threat assessment. It concluded -- as did its threat assessment for 2016 -- that Norway might experience an Islamic terrorist attack from Islamic State (ISIS) sympathizers acting upon ISIS's call to carry out independent attacks. The PST explains:
"These calls to action are one reason why we have seen an increase over the last few years in the number of lone terrorist attacks in the West. The likeliest scenario for a terrorist attack in a Western country is an ISIL-/AQ-inspired attack carried out with a simple weapon against a target with little or no protection".
"Lone wolf" attacks are rightly described as an actual terrorist strategy, rather than what the media likes to describe as random "mental illness". In addition, this threat assessment now fits all of Europe.
The PST goes on to warn:
"Immigration to Europe will influence the terrorist threat in various ways in the coming year. One of the problems we expect to face is the radicalization of asylum-seekers, migrants and illegal immigrants in Norway. Attempts may be made to radicalize members of these groups by other migrants at reception centers or by visitors. As in previous years, individuals who support and sympathize with extreme Islamist organizations will arrive in Norway in 2017".
The security risks inherent in unvetted migration are clearly spelled out by the PST. Migration to Norway in 2016 was at a record low of 3,460 asylum seekers -- the lowest since 1997. The reason, according to Norway's Directorate of Immigration, is that "... border and ID checks in Europe have had a decisive effect on numbers of arrivals in Norway". Even so, the Directorate of Immigration estimates that double that number, or around 7,000 asylum seekers, will arrive in Norway in both 2017 and 2018.
The PST mentions another source of future jihadist attacks:
"Radicalization in prisons is a phenomenon that will become more common in Norway in 2017. There are a number of individuals currently in prison as a result of national investigations of travelers to Syria, and in 2017 more of them will be prosecuted for violation of the terror provisions in Norwegian law. This means that there will be an increasing number of prisoners in Norway who have played a role in extreme Islamist groups here and who also have operational experience gained abroad. It is likely that extreme Islamists will retain their convictions in prison and attempt to radicalize others. Attempts have already been made to radicalize other prisoners, including individuals sentenced for gross violence".
Radicalization happens on a large scale in prisons, amply illustrated by experience in British prisons. The most recent example was Khalid Masood, who targeted the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge, murdering four people and injuring at least 50 others in a stabbing- and car-ramming attack. Masood is thought to have been radicalized while serving time in prison. This trend is likely in Norwegian prisons as well.
The PST, however, perhaps out of a lack of experience with imams in Norwegian prisons, appears to overlook an important source of radicalization. The British government review of extremism in British prisons, for example, revealed that Muslim chaplains, who are appointed by the Ministry of Justice, were distributing radicalizing literature -- misogynistic and anti-gay pamphlets and tracts endorsing the killing of apostates -- to inmates. The author of the review, Ian Acheson, said that he found staff lacked the training to confront and deter Islamist extremist ideology, and were often fearful that if they did, they would be accused of racism.
Norway, nevertheless, seems to be making the same poorly thought-out choices as Britain. In 2015, Ringerike prison said it planned to introduce imams into the prison. "We are now about to enter into a partnership with an imam who will conduct seminars for Muslims," prison governor Håkon Melvold told VG newspaper. "In addition, we will create philosophy groups with participation from various faiths."
Terje Auli, prison chaplain at Oslo prison, said that prisons should help Muslims to practice their religion. "It is obvious that we counteract extremism when we facilitate the practice of religion in prison," he said. It has apparently not occurred to these authorities that encouraging Muslims in prison to study the Quran and hadiths, with their exhortations to jihad against the "infidels", may in itself serve to radicalize the inmates. Why should Islam play any role in prisons to begin with?
Norway recently appointed a Pakistani-educated imam, Najeeb ur Rehman Naz, to be the first Muslim chaplain of the Norwegian military. Before the appointment, Norwegian military chaplains were exclusively Christian. In 2012, the military itself suggested the introduction of chaplains representing "other religions and life philosophies". There was a small uproar when it came to light that a year earlier, Najeeb ur Rehman Naz had given online advice to a woman in a forced marriage to the effect that although he considered forced marriage wrong, once she was in the marriage it was her obligation to respect the duties and responsibilities of the marriage. He backed up this view with a reference to the Quran -- which, oddly, some Norwegian politicians found to be surprising. Why should an imam educated in Pakistan not cite the Quran when giving advice? Moreover, the idea that imams might tell women to stay with their husbands, regardless of whether or not their marriages were forced, should not startle anyone who has even the most rudimentary knowledge of women's subjugated position within Islam.
Najeeb ur Rehman Naz, recently appointed the first Muslim chaplain of the Norwegian military, gave advice to a woman in a forced marriage that it was her obligation to respect the duties and responsibilities of the marriage. Pictured: Head military chaplain Brigadier Alf Petter Hagesæther (left) congratulates Naz (right) on his appointment as military chaplain, March 1, 2017. (Image source: Norwegian Armed Forces/Torbjørn Kjosvold)
Repeatedly, Western societies seem "surprised" by their own willful blindness when it comes to Islam. In the case of Norway, the Police Security Service has laid out clearly the dangers of radicalization and the extant risks of jihadist terror against Norway. But is anybody listening?
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.