Last autumn, Bhatti was internationally wanted and charged with complicity in serious terrorism.
The EOS committee confirms to NRK that they upheld Arfan Bhatti’s appeal in February 2022.
A few months later, Bhatti was considered the mastermind behind the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of two people.
– The EOS Committee received a complaint from Bhatti which we dealt with in accordance with the EOS Control Act. We did investigations and found reason to criticize PST in this complaint, says leader of the EOS committee, Astri Aas-Hansen, to NRK.
Bhatti complained to the PST because he believed they carried out a series of surveillance measures against him.
Among other things, this should have been room tapping, communication control and data reading.
The complaint is dated May 2019.
Aas-Hansen tells NRK that Bhatti himself was told that PST had received criticism in February 2022.
– The complainant was then only informed that the committee had uncovered conditions that gave rise to criticism of PST, and that these conditions had ceased. For reasons of grading, we are not able to go into what the criticism consisted of, says Aas-Hansen.
NRK has seen the briefing letter Bhatti and and his lawyer John Christian Elden received from EOS in February 2022.
“The committee’s investigation has revealed circumstances that have given reason to criticize PST. The objectionable conditions have ceased”.
Bhatti has still not been told what PST did that was objectionable, Elden tells NRK.
The daily newspaper has previously discussed the decision from the EOS committee. Elden then stated that Bhatti agreed that he was being illegally monitored.
Could have been avoided
Today, the evaluation committee after the shooting on 25 June stated that it is “possible that the attack could have been averted if the PST had maintained its previous focus” on the Islamist Arfan Bhatti.
– PST had toned down its earlier focus on Bhatti. If PST had maintained its previous focus on Bhatti, according to the committee’s assessment, it is possible that the attack could have been prevented, if it turns out that Bhatti is behind it, said committee leader Pia Therese Jansen when the report was presented on Thursday.
Several refer to the report as crushing for PST, and today they regretted that they were unable to prevent the shooting on 25 June.
When asked why they did not focus more on Bhatti in the time before 25 June, the head of PST Beate Gangås replies that there will always be a balance between privacy and the use of hidden methods.
– I do not overlook the fact that staying within the rules also means that you limit the scope of monitoring, she says to NRK.
The report that the committee presented has ten key findings:
Bhatti was not a high priority
Arfan Bhatti has been charged with complicity in serious terrorism after the mass shooting. He faces 30 years in prison if found guilty. Bhatti denies having anything to do with the shooting.
He is now in custody in Pakistan.
The Islamist has for a number of years been in the spotlight of the Police’s security service. He is considered absolutely central in the extreme Islamist milieu in Norway.
In the time before the attack, however, Bhatti was not a priority object for the PST.
Among other things, PST had not picked up that Bhatti had posted a burning rainbow flag and quotes justifying the killing of homosexuals 11 days before the terrorist attack.
According to the report, PST’s focus on Bhatti in the “weeks and months leading up to the attack has been limited”.
This despite the fact that the PST believed that Bhatti’s extreme ideology and image of the enemy appeared unchanged, according to an intelligence report the committee has been given access to.
– The report bears the stamp of a pre-judgment on the part of the police, with indications that Bhatti contributed to the shooting incident. It is unfortunate and contrary to the rules on a fair trial, defender Elden writes to NRK.
The EOS selection was critical
In the report, the committee asks why PST has downplayed the preventive work around Bhatti.
Bhatti was not linked to known terrorist plans, and PST had varying access to information are two of the explanations being discussed.
Another point that is highlighted is that the EOS committee has “taken a particular interest in PST’s work with Bhatti”.
The committee writes that for grading reasons they cannot describe this in more detail, but says that the attention was critical.
The EOS committee is to control the secret services in Norway, and the members are appointed by the Storting.
The committee writes that PST considered that they had to tone down their focus on Bhatti in order to safeguard values such as freedom of privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
– HHas the EOS committee paid too much critical attention to PST’s work against Arfan Bhatti?
– The EOS committee is obliged to deal with all complaints that fall under our mandate. The EOS committee’s democratic control of PST has not helped to prevent PST’s preventive work against Bhatti, writes Astri Aas-Hansen to NRK.
Absence of information
The committee further questions whether the decision to tone down the focus on Bhatti was in line with current legislation and PST’s mandate and guidelines.
The committee points out that Bhatti has several times “demonstrated that he had an intention to commit terrorism in Norway, which is also publicly known”.
The committee writes that this in itself is a weighty argument for having a greater focus on him “than on other persons with whom there is concern.”
In addition, the committee believes that the absence of worrying activity may be a sign that something is brewing:
“The logic is as follows: If someone is preparing a terrorist attack, in advance of the attack they will do everything they can to avoid attention from the security authorities,” writes the committee.
The committee does not write exactly when the PST stopped focusing on Bhatti, but suggests that it has been around two years since the PST last had a case against him:
“How long can one maintain a suspicion against a person on the basis of history and the absence of worrisome behavior and at the same time safeguard this person’s basic human rights?”, they write in the report.
The committee writes that they cannot answer the question precisely:
“However, we note that if the answer to the question was one year, it is possible that this attack would have been carried out anyway. If the answer to the question was two years, it is possible that this attack would not have been carried out.”
Elden writes to NRK that he interprets the passage to mean that PST ended its surveillance of Bhatti.
– What I read from the passage is that between one and two years ago, before 25 June, the PST ended its surveillance of Bhatti on the basis that he was no longer considered a potential danger. We do not know if he has anything to do with the shooting incident, so whether this was a right or wrong assessment is impossible to say anything about now, writes the defender to NRK.
Contact between Bhatti and Matapour
Committee leader Pia Therese Jansen says that if the PST had investigated Bhatti’s network, they would with a high probability have identified that Matapour was part of it.
PST believes that Matapour was radicalized in 2015, and that Matapour probably had a high capacity for violence, the report states.
It also appears that PST was concerned about the relationship between Arfan Bhatti and Matapour.
Several years and meetings between Bhatti and Matapour are highlighted in the nearly 300 pages that were presented today.
- On Friday 22 April 2022, the police discovered that a car was following two SIAN members in connection with a possible demonstration at Stovner. Arfan Bhatti drove the car, while Matapour sat in the back seat. None of the men had mobile phones with them, but knives were found in the car
- On 31 July 2019, several shots were fired at the house of one of Matapour’s family members. Zaniar Matapour became one of the police’s main suspects in the case. Witnesses who were in the area are said to have seen Bhatti on a bicycle near the crime scene, and he was summoned as a witness in the case. Bhatti was not charged in the case and Matapour will not be convicted of the shooting due to the state of the evidence.
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