by Gorill Husby
(IPS) OSLO --
Norwegian government has declared a heightened state of alert after the release of a new audio tape allegedly inciting Al-Qaeda supporters to strike against Norway.
In the audiotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television Wednesday, Ayman Zawahiri, deputy head of Al-Qaeda reportedly called on Muslims to attack Western facilities and kill Western civilians.
"Attack the missions of the United States, the U.K., Australia and Norway and their interests, companies and employees," says the voice on the tape believed to be that of Zawahiri. "Turn the ground beneath their feet into an inferno and kick them out of your countries."
Many Norwegians were taken aback. "Why us, what have we done?" asked Maria, a 20-year-old student, shaking her head in disbelief.
The warning came as a surprise in a country known for its role in international peace building. As recently as May 16, Per Sefland, chief of the Norwegian intelligence police announced that there was little terrorist threat to Norway and its interests abroad.
But Stein Tonneson, director of the Peace and Research Institute of Oslo told IPS it is likely that Norway is named "because of its involvement in the war against Afghanistan, and the Norwegian involvement in the battle of Tora Bora in particular."
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has now placed all embassies, particularly the embassy in Saudi Arabia, on high alert. The foreign ministry believes that Norwegians living in the Arab world are most at risk.
Several Norwegian companies have commercial interests in the Middle East, and are now believed to be Al-Qaeda targets. Statoil, the largest Norwegian oil company, has facilities in Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Other experts also point to Norwegian assistance to the U.S. in Afghanistan as the most likely provocation for the new threat. Norwegian fighter jets took part in the action against Al-Qaeda operatives and the Taliban regime around Tora Bora. The Norwegian Defense Intelligence Service assisted U.S. intelligence, and Norwegian Special Forces are still helping hunt al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
The death of Zawahiri's wife and three daughters in a bomb attack in Kandahar might also be linked to Norwegian action in Afghanistan, according to official sources.
The Norwegian newspaper VG cited an "intelligence source" Thursday as saying that Norwegian forces and fighter jets in Afghanistan "had clearly hit the terrorist network, directly and hard."
One expert links the threat to the case of an Islamic leader facing extradition from Norway. "The Mullah Krekar case stands out as one reason why Norway would be specifically mentioned," Chris Aaron, editor of Jane's Intelligence Review based in London told IPS on the telephone.
Faraj Ahmad Najmuddin, 46, known as Mullah Krekar, was granted political asylum in Norway in 1991. Krekar who is suspected of leading a militant Islamic group, has been ordered out of Norway but has appealed against the decision..
Mullah Krekar has visited Iraq on several occasions. He is suspected of leading Ansar al-Islam, a militant Islamist group operating in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
Mullah Krekar's stay in Norway became controversial after his group was seen as supporting Saddam Hussein. Barham Salih, a leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), claims that Krekar's group was experimenting with recin poison gas. The Norwegian police are investigating his alleged links with terrorist networks.
"Though not profiled as a high-ranking Al-Qaeda operative, this might have been done by Al-Qaeda in order to gain some influence within his group Ansar al- Islam," said Aaron. "Al-Qaeda is trying to expand its network and build strong relations with other groups. There have been several previous cases where terrorists have targeted countries for detaining and arresting their operatives."
Tonneson does not believe there is a link between the Mullah Krekar case and the terror threat against Norway. "This surprises me," he said. "I do not believe Mullah Krekar is important enough within the Al-Qaeda network to justify terrorist action against Norway."
May 22, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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