Terror cell probe hits crucial phase
February 7, 2011
An international probe of a terrorism case connecting Norway with the UK and the US is coming to a head, with authorities keen to gain access to US evidence related to an alleged Norwegian terror cell.
Newspaper Aftenposten reports that the Norwegian police intelligence service (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, PST) has requested information from the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that they believe links Mikael Davud, a Norwegian accused of heading a terrorist group in the country, to Abid Naseer, a Briton facing extradition to the US who allegedly coordinated attacks on targets in Britain, the US and Norway during 2009. Davud, Naseer and Najibullah Zazi, who has admitted involvement in the foiled attempt to bomb the New York metro system, are all thought to have maintained contact with the same Al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan.
Contact in code
E-mails found on computers owned by the suspects suggest they maintained contact with Al-Qaida members, and apparently used a code in which discussion of weddings, marriage and the weather disguised plans for acts of terrorism. The Americans believe British Al-Qaida commander Rashid Rauf and another senior member, Saleh al-Somali – both of whom were later killed in drone attacks in Pakistan – led the plans of Davud, Naseer and Zazi. The three men are also believed to have been trained in Pakistan.
Norwegian authorities, though, face difficulties in using evidence from foreign security services in court. “There are almost sacred rules for the use of such information,” PST’s Janne Kristiansen told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. “It cannot be used in court without permission. If we still use it without permission from the cooperating service, it will hurt further collaboration.”
An Oslo court gave PST eight more weeks in January to question Davud, who reportedly has not been cooperative. The ruling emphasized the testimony of another of the accused, Shawan Bujak, which suggests that the Norwegian terror cell’s target was the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Davud himself has only mentioned the Chinese embassy in Oslo as a possible target, as revenge for Chinese oppression suffered by his family, but this has been rejected by investigators, who have confirmed that the accused did not know the location of the Chinese embassy in Oslo when questioned.
‘No firm plans’
Aftenposten reports that Davud’s own lawyer, Arild Humlen, also confirms this, suggesting that his client had no firm plans for an attack. He believes this weakens the prosecution’s case because “there isn’t any new evidence that strengthens the accusation that the three defendants had entered into any association” with each other. Indeed, documents revealed by Wikileaks, which detail discussions between the US embassy and Norwegian authorities, suggest that PST had, in January, no leads that illuminate the goal of any eventual attack.
In order to convict Davud, Bujak and their other alleged colleague, David Jakobsen, who was released from custody last fall, the prosecutors must convince the court that the men knowingly entered into an alliance with the intention of committing one or more acts of terrorism. After a further custody hearing in March, PST would have until the summer holidays at the latest to conclude their investigation, after which the public prosecutor will decide whether to indict the three suspects.