Norway terror attacks: Security service had warned of rise in extremist activity

NORWEGIAN police intelligence had warned of rising activity in far-right and anti-Muslim extremist groups but did not view it as a major threat to the country, it emerged last night.

An unclassified document published by Norway's Police Security Service in February said it saw a picture of "increased uncertainty".

It also said far-right groups in Norway had established links to others in Scandinavia and Russia, where hard-line nationalists enjoy significant political support.

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"Although the overall threat from right-wing extremism appears to be on the wane and the numbers of right-wing extremist criminal offences are relatively low, the professionalism in their propaganda and organisation shows that right-wing extremist groups have the will to enlarge and spread their ideology and still pose a threat in EU member states," it said.

If the unrest in the Arab world, especially in North Africa, leads to a major influx of immigrants into Europe, "right-wing extremism and terrorism might gain a new lease of life by articulating more widespread public apprehension about immigration from Muslim countries into Europe", it added.

"Norwegian far-right extremists are in contact with Swedish far-right extremists, as well as with other far-right extremist groups in Europe. Contact also takes place between Norwegian and Russian far-right extremists," it said.

"An increased level of activity among some anti-Islamic groups could lead to increased polarisation and unease, especially during and in connection with commemorations and demonstrations."

Part of that was due to what it called an expected increased level of activity in 2011 by far-right militants.

However, the security service viewed Islamist extremism as a larger threat and concluded that far-right fringe groups or individuals would not constitute a major threat against the Norwegian homeland.

The far right in Scandinavia enjoys significant support and has found its way into mainstream coalition governments.

The rhetoric on immigration and Islam in Norway has become harder in some fringe groups, said. Kari Helene Partapuoli, director of the non-governmental Norwegian Centre against Racism.

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Last autumn, a party with an anti-immigration agenda was voted into the Swedish parliament, and in Denmark the Danish People's Party has gained popularity in recent years for its tough stance on immigration issues.

However, Partapuoli said that the discussion on immigration has been less prominent in Norway than in many other European countries.

"We have seen relatively less of it in Norway; it has never been like in Denmark and Netherlands with their big debates about how multiculturalism has failed," she noted.

Despite that, the Progress Party of Norway, under the leadership of Carl I Hagen, who led it for 28 years, demanded immigration caps of 1,000 per year in the early 2000s.

In 2006, Pia Kjaersgaard, known as the "poster-girl" of Denmark's far right and leader of the Danish People's Party, was voted the most influential woman in the land.

The "third-way" government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen depended on the support of Kjaersgaard, who pushed for tighter immigration laws in return for votes.

In the rest of Europe there have also been recent successes for far-right parties.

In Italy's regional elections in March 2010, the Northern League managed to more than double its vote, securing 12.7 per cent, up from 5.7 per cent in 2005.

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The far-right party managed to win over those who traditionally supported the Communists and Democratic Left parties.

That result came ten days after France's National Front won nearly 10 per cent of the overall vote in the regional elections, capturing 118 seats in 12 regions.

Analysis firm Stratfor Global Intelligence said the wider implications for the rest of Europe will depend largely on who stands behind this weekend's attacks.

If the attacks are the work of a disturbed individual acting alone, the events will have few long-ranging repercussions beyond a reworking of domestic security procedures in Norway, Stratfor said.

If a person or group with far-right or neo-Nazi leanings was behind the attacks, the incidents could lead to a temporary loss of popularity for the far right across Europe, although long-term repercussions are unlikely, it added.