Three held in Norway over suspected terror attacks
Police in Norway and Germany detained three men Thursday they said had links to Al-Qaeda and foiled attacks in the United States and Britain, on suspicion of planning terror acts.
All had been under surveillance for some time and the arrests had to be brought forward because of fears that details of the operation could be published, officials said.
One suspect is a 39-year-old Chinese Uighur who came as a refugee to Norway in 1999 and became a citizen three years ago, Janne Kristiansen, head of Norway's Police Security Service (PST), told reporters.
That man, reportedly the leader of the group, and a 31-year-old asylum-seeker from Uzbekistan with a legal resident permit in Norway, were both arrested in Oslo.
The third suspect, a 37-year-old Iraqi Kurd who holds a Norwegian resident permit, was meanwhile arrested in Germany where he had spent several days as a tourist, the prosecutor's office in the western city of Frankfurt told AFP, adding that he would be extradited to Norway.
Three men suspected "of preparing a terrorist act and who have links to Al-Qaeda have been arrested today," Norway's security police chief said.
National prosecutor Jan Glent told the press conference the three had been "charged with having entered into a partnership to commit a terrorist act."
"We consider this case very serious," he said, adding there was a high level of suspicion against the three, meaning there was more than a 50 percent chance that they were guilty of the crime they were suspected of.
"We also think they have links to Al Qaeda and to similar attempts (at terror attacks) in New York and Manchester," he said.
US prosecutors on Wednesday named top Al-Qaeda leaders behind a plot foiled last September to set off explosions in the New York subway. They said one of the men was also linked to a bomb plot in the northeastern English city of Manchester last year.
Norwegian police meanwhile did not divulge where the planned attacks they suspected had been set to take place.
The three men "are suspected of committing terrorist crimes, period," Kristiansen said.
The PST did however say there were no plans to extradite the men to another country, something that could indicate Norway was the target, and local media speculated the 500 Norwegian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan may have angered extremists.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who cut short his holiday to discuss the arrests, meanwhile insisted "we are in Afghanistan to fight terror (and) to stop it from again becoming a sanctuary for organising and planning international terror acts."
"What I can say is that Norway is working to stop terror attacks, whether they are planned to take place in Norway or abroad," he said at a separate press conference, also refusing to say if the Scandinavian country had been the target of the attack plans.
Stoltenberg described the events Thursday as "the most serious arrests of this kind that have ever been made in Norway." he said
He said he had long been kept in the loop on the investigation and that he was convinced "Norway is still one of the world's safest countries."
"At the same time, the threat level in Norway is gradually becoming more like the one seen in countries that have been targeted by terror ... We have to be on our guard," he said.
If found guilty of the crimes, the three suspects face up to 12 years in prison in Norway, where prison sentences tend to be short.
The arrests followed a long, international investigation during which time the suspects had been held under close surveillance, PST said, stressing that "according to our assessment the public have not been in any danger."
They were made earlier than planned, the PST said, pointing out that "the international press was informed about parts of the case and wanted to publish it. This would result in a considerable risk of destruction of evidence and evasion in the further investigation of the case."
Stuart Levery, the US Treasury's under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said Thursday the United States had provided Norwegian investigators with banking data from the US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme.
"I can tell you that the TFTP provided support to the Norwegian investigation of that Al-Qaeda threat," Levey told a teleconference.
"Today's arrests remind us that Europe remains a target for terrorist attacks," he said.
© 2010 AFP