Al-Qaeda's Problem With Norway

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A large explosion shook downtown Oslo this morning, blowing out the Prime Minister's 17-story office building and damaging the oil ministry office, which as of this writing is still burning. (Two photos of the explosion here and here.) So far, the cause of the explosion is unknown, as is the culprit.

It's natural to wonder whether al-Qaeda, the world's most famous terrorist organization, might have been involved. But why would the group target Norwegian government infrastructure? Last year, after several immigrants to Norway were arrested plotting terrorist attacks on behalf of al-Qaeda, Thomas Hegghammer and Dominic Tierney wrote "Why Does Al-Qaeda Have a Problem With Norway?" for TheAtlantic.com. Here are some snippets:

There are several theories about why Norway would be on al-Qaeda's hit-list -- but they raise more questions than answers.

The first explanation is Afghanistan. Norway has been part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from its foundation in late 2001. Since Norway threw in its lot with the "crusaders," it's fair game in the eyes of many Islamists. In late 2007, for example, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second-in-command, said that the group had previously threatened Norway because it "participated in the war against the Muslims."

...

While Afghanistan is likely a factor, then, it's not a satisfactory explanation. So a second theory has been proposed: the cartoon crisis. In early 2006, a small Norwegian newspaper angered many Muslims by reprinting Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. This sparked a flurry of Internet threats as well as physical attacks on Norwegian interests abroad. In Syria, angry demonstrators burnt down the Norwegian embassy. In Pakistan, offices of the Norwegian company Telenor came under attack.

...

Which brings us to the third theory: Norway's treatment of the Iraqi Kurdish Islamist Mulla Krekar. Onetime leader of the Islamist guerrilla group Ansar al-Islam, Mulla Krekar came to Norway as a refugee in the early 1990s and spent years secretly shuttling between Oslo and Kurdistan until his arrest in September 2002. Although terrorism charges were dropped in 2003, he has been officially declared a threat to national security and placed under house arrest awaiting deportation to Iraq. For many Islamists, Mulla Krekar's treatment demonstrates Norway's subservience to the cruel whims of the United States.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Norwegian officials now say that a gunman, arrested after a shooting today that is believed to be related to the earlier bombings, is a Norwegian man, and that the attacks have no apparent international connection. Looks like this was not al-Qaeda.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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