During the hearing in the Storting’s control committee on Monday, the head of the National Intelligence Service, Nils Andreas Stensønes, told about the dramatic days before the terrorist attack in the center of Oslo, on the night of 25 June last year.
Six days before the attack, on 19 June, a secret agent in the Norwegian Intelligence Service received several disturbing messages from a wanted Islamist.
– In an operation managed and controlled by the E-service, which had been going on for several years – one of our agents received information on Sunday 19 June about a possible terrorist attack where several of the people involved were Norwegian citizens, said Nils Andreas Stensønes during the hearing.
HEARING: Speaker Peter Frølich (H) and members of the Control and Constitution Committee during the open hearing at the Storting on the mass shooting on 25 June last year.
Photo: Ole Berg-Rusten / NTB
Source with “unique access”
The Islamist communicated with the agent via the encrypted messaging service Telegram and used a self-deleting feature that makes the messages disappear soon after they are read.
The Islamist believed that the recipient of the messages was an IS fighter – not a secret agent reporting back to Norway.
The Islamist currently has the status of a witness in the investigation, the Oslo police district informs NRK.
In the chat, the Islamist says that a “brother” is planning the attack. The brother wants to get in touch with IS, so that they can take responsibility for the attack.
The agent perceived the information to be so important and unique that it was sent to Norway on Sunday evening, Stensønes said in his statement.
In the E-service, there was no doubt that the information was credible, and that the attack was likely to take place in Norway, said the intelligence chief.
On Monday morning, the E-service PST notified a possible “imminent” terrorist attack.
On the same day, there was an operational management meeting between the two services.
NRK has previously told that the Islamist is in Arfan Bhatti’s circle. Bhatti was later charged with complicity in aggravated terrorism after the mass shooting.
– We considered this a credible threat. It was from a source who was very well placed and therefore we communicated this immediately, Stensønes told NRK after the hearing.
BURDEN: – For several of my colleagues it has been a great personal burden that the work did not lead to the attack being averted, Stensønes said in
Photo: Christine Svendsen / NRK
– How is this information obtained?
– It was brought in by an agent who works for the Norwegian Intelligence Service and I can’t go any further than that. It is very important for us to take care of our sources’ identities because of their security and the possibility of retrieving information later, says Stensønes.
He said that it has been difficult for the E-service that they warned of a possible attack, but that it was still not stopped.
– For several of my colleagues it has been a great personal burden that the work did not lead to the attack being averted, said Stensønes.
The committee that evaluated PST and the police after the terrorist attack on 25 June criticized PST for how they handled the notification to the E-service.
The notification was not dealt with quickly enough and the work was one-sided, according to the committee.
They believe that the PST spent efforts to find out whether Arfan Bhatti was really involved, instead of trying to find out who in Norway could attack.
– The warning was clear
On the other hand, PST has believed that the Norwegian Intelligence Service shared too little information when they notified.
The e-service did not say that the information about a possible attack in Norway came from their own secret operation. Nor did they share the chat messages between the agent and that Islamist.
– PST has said that this notice was bare and too concrete. What is your comment on that?
– We gave them all the information we had. What we did not provide was identification of the agent and exactly how the operation was managed, says Stensønes to NRK.
– Was there anything in this notice that was difficult to understand?
– For us, this was clear and obvious.
During the hearing, Stensønes said that the E-service has asked itself if they could do something differently, but that the answer is essentially “no”.
Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram has requested explanations from the E-service.
– It was and is my understanding that in the time before the attack, the National Intelligence Service carried out its mission. They obtained and analyzed information about foreign affairs and notified the PST of a threat, Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said on Monday.
PST: – We could do more
PST chief Beate Gangås attended the hearing in the Storting.
Photo: Ole Berg-Rusten / NTB
PST manager Beate Gangås was also present during the hearing on Monday.
– I have said that we could do more. We could have followed up several of the tracks. We could have invested more resources, but then the report also says that it is not certain that it would have been averted anyway. says Gangås to NRK.
– The resource situation was and is demanding. It is of course of great importance for what we are able to follow up on tips and messages that come to us, says Gangås.
Rejects criticism from defender
Marius Dietrichson is the defense attorney for terrorist accused Zaniar Matapour.
Photo: Gunnar Bratthammer / NRK
Marius Dietrichson, the defender of terrorist suspect Zaniar Matapour, has previously said that it is possible that the attack would not have happened at all without the involvement of the E-service’s agent.
The head of the National Intelligence Service rejects this.
– The is not correct, and it is also clear from the context if you read all the chat logs, says Stensønes to NRK.
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