Norwegian Experience in reducing extreme violence

Last updated: 6/29/2012 // This speech was delivered by Minister Counsellor Odd Berner Malme at a Panel Debate on Counter the Appeal of Terrorism on 27th of June. The theme was “Norwegian Experience in reducing extreme violence”.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

It is a great honor for me to participate in this panel on the important debate on countering the Appeal of Terrorism, and to talk about the Norwegian experience in reducing extreme violence. I appreciate the initiative of the President of the General Assembly to give us the possibility to conduct a broad thematic debate on this issue, before the review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy.

The Global response to terrorism has mostly been related to 9/11 and the time after, and the United Nations demands to member states to adopt a more targeted and coordinated approach to terrorism.

For me, it is natural to use some time of my intervention on the UNTINKEABLE incident that happen in Norway last year. Nobody thought it possible, but it was. Last July – the 22 - terror struck peaceful Oslo and Utøya Island. Our nation was attacked by a sole perpetrator. First there were bombing in Oslo and later shooting at Utøya Island. Each of these attacks turned out to be more dramatic than any act of violence previously experience in Norway.

The perpetrator is a 33 years old Norwegian, who’s currently standing trial. We’ve had broad and deep discussions on how this could happen. Why didn’t the police stop this “lonely wolf” before he conducted these horrific acts? Many of the crucial elements in the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy are now up for debate.

However, the Norwegian experience in approaching extreme violence goes back to the 1980s and 1990s. At the time there were a surge in xenophobic violence and a rapid increase in young people joining racist and right-wing extremist groups and organizations. The violence ranged from street fights and assault on political opponents, immigrants and other minorities - to attacks like bombings, arson and murders. The latter is the kind of violence associated with terrorists. Only few people participated in these extreme violent activities, but they still presented a huge challenge for the police and the civil society. Much was done to prevent this form of violent radicalization and recruitment into violence on the extreme right ***.

But for a long time little attention was paid to those who had already joined such groups. Research showed that many young people who had participated in these groups found it difficult to disengage; partly because they feared reprisals from former friends and enemies, but also because they had become stigmatized and faced difficulties in gaining acceptance elsewhere. Child welfare agencies sometimes declined engaging these youth, because they feared getting involved with neo-Nazis.

However, some police officers, youth workers, researchers and parents took action and established disengagement programs, targeting violent oriented right wing extremists in Norway.

The Exit project was initiated, and it had three main objectives:
• Aiding and supporting young people who want to disengage from racist violent groups.
• Supporting parents with children in racist or violent groups and establishing local networks for parents.
• Developing and disseminating knowledge and methods to professions who work with youth associated with violent groups.

The Norwegian Exit project worked primarily through local municipalities and local police, providing them with relevant information on how to work directly with youth.

The establishment of parent networks proved to be a highly effective method for concerned parents to get their teenagers out of violent extremists groups. Parents have a strong need for information on what’s going on in these groups. By sharing information they could build a better understanding of what was happening in the milieu their children were involved with. Most parents felt a strong need to talk to someone about their problems, but were reluctant to bring the issue up in their regular circles.

Over a period of five years about 130 parents, representing 100 youths, participated in networking groups in Norway. By the end of the period it was only ten youths still involved in extremist violence groups. Today, the Exit activities have been integrated in the normal work of municipalities and the police.

Later, the Norwegian Police Service together with NGOs started a project on “preventive conversations”, where they spoke with young people who had become involved with violent right wing organizations. The youngsters were approached by the police, with the purpose of informing them – and sometimes their parents – of possible negative consequences of involvement with extremist groups.  Through the talks they tried to motivate the youth to break with the groups.  Of 95 approached youth, about half of them claimed that they wanted to break with their past and 12 others consider to do so.

The Exit program and related approaches were established in both Sweden and Germany.

Despite these successful efforts, Mr. Chairman, the most extreme violence happened in Norway the 22nd of July last year. This incident brought a change to everything. Our democracy and our values were tested in a single afternoon, challenged by a car bomb and a massacre. A large section of our Government Quarter was blown up by a homemade bomb, not very different from the one detonated by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma in 1995. It could have killed hundreds. But the bomb struck on a Friday afternoon at the peak of the holiday season, and “only” 8 people were killed and a dozen critical injured.  Both the Office of the Prime Minister and several other Ministry Offices were destroyed. The bomber had initially targeted the Prime Minister, but he was not at his office when the bomb exploded and destroyed the whole Quarter.

But it did not end there.

Approximately 90 minutes later, 25 miles away, Utøya Island were attacked by the same perpetrator.  The Island is owned and run by the Youth League of the Labor Party, and on the day of the attack, about 500 youths from all over the country had gathered to attend their annual summer camp. At the camp they debated politics, had sports contests and played music, all in an atmosphere of friendship and love. During the next hour or so the terrorist killed 69 young people in cold blood, some of the youth only 14 years old. Some tried to escape from the island by jumping into the water and swim away, but had to return due to cold water. Some was shot in the water and some on the shores.

An unthinkable horrific scenario unraveled this summer afternoon. The perpetrator was eventually arrested and identified as Anders Behring Breivik, a 33 years old national Norwegian. Investigations have shown that his childhood became isolated and lonely. He developed into a drifter who eventually turned towards right winged and anti-immigrant rhetoric’s, ending up as “lone wolf “.
He thus fits the “lone wolf terrorist”-label, which proves to be a particular problem for counter terrorism officials.

What is the motive of doing such a horrific crime?

We find the answers in Breivik's far-right militant ideology, described in his compendium of texts, titled

2083 – A European Declaration of Independence

This is a 1500 pages document offering crazy ideas, most of them copied from the Internet and distributed electronically by Breivik himself on the day of the attacks. In his declaration he presents his worldview, which supports ultra-nationalism, right-wing populism, Islam phobia and white nationalism. It regards Islam as the enemy, and argues for violence against and deportation of all Muslims from Europe (culminating in the year 2083). This must be done in order to preserve European Christianity.

Breivik wrote that his main motive for committing the atrocities on July 22, was to market this manifesto.

Breivik accused the Norwegian Labor Party for the Muslim immigration, and stated that the Labor Party had to “pay the price” for letting Norway and the Norwegian People down.

Anders Bergin Breivik’s trial began on April 16 2012, and ended last week with final statement and procedure from the defense and prosecutor. Now, the judges have to decide whether or not Breivik was sane when he committed the crimes. If he was, he will be given a prison sentence.  If the court finds him legally insane, he will be sectioned to a psychiatric facility. The judges’ sentence is expected in August.

No doubt the victims, both individually and Norway as a nation, have had to mentally absorb the terror attacks. The first weeks after the assaults, the situation was handled with dignity and respect. Now, almost a year later, the mood has changed. Both media and victims have turned increasingly critical to how the situation was handled.

Did the Government do everything in its power to protect its citizens?

There are many questions, but not quite as many good answers. There are certainly some questions that are more important than others, and need to be raised.

The Government has appointed a special commission to analyze and evaluate the handling of the attacks. Its report and recommendation will be presented in August.

As I said earlier in my presentation, Mr. Chair, our democratic values got tested on July 22. Since then, the Prime Minister and the Government has stated several times that we will meet such acts of evil with more democracy and openness. We will not let terrorist bomb us into silence, and no one shall be able to shoot us to silence either.

The terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, has been at trial for the last nine weeks. During this time he has met the Norwegian Criminal Justice System, which is built on Human Rights and International law. He has had the same rights as all defendants have in our court system, and has been given the opportunity to speak and give comments on the charges he is accused of.

In conclusion, Mr. Chair, there is a lot to learn from a case like this. And some question is more critical than others.

How could this perpetrator have been targeted earlier, so that the police could have confronted him in the planning phase of his terror act?

How could he have been met on an early stage in life, so that his right winged ideology could have been countered through dialog and communication?

How can we improve police contingency planning and get a more bold response to the UNTINKEABLE? This is something we have to look into.

The most critical question is how we can avoid such terrible nightmare happen again. However, this is not a task for the police alone. This is an inter-sector challenge, and causes and opportunities for prevention lies under the areas of several government departments.

We also need to strengthen the cooperation with civil society.

In the aftermath of such a national trauma, it is critical that society does not alter its open and free ways. In my country we are proud of our open and free democracy. It is inclusive and strong. Justice must be served, the rule of law upheld.

There needs to be a balance between security and freedom. It is of outmost importance that we take steps to prevent attacks like this from ever happen again. We must not be naïve, but resolute and firm. We must seek the middle ground that serves both freedom and security.

Violence cannot be met by more violence. We must learn from these brutal hours last year, but we must never give up the values that are most dear to us. The King of Norway said “our faith in freedom is stronger than our fear”.

Thank you for your attention.


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