Expert: Skepticism Grows About Immigration In Norway

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The suspected gunman behind the massacre on a Norwegian island is reported to be a right-wing extremist with anti-immigrant sentiments. Norwegian terrorism expert Helge Luras talks to Scott Simon about right-wing extremist groups in his country, and why, initially, many Norwegians suspected Islamic extremists might be behind the attack.

SCOTT SIMON, host: We turn now to Helge Luras, a terrorism expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. Mr. Luras, thanks for being with us.

HELGE LURAS: You're welcome.

SIMON: As we've just heard, the man in custody is 32-year-old Norwegian man who has reportedly expressed anti-immigrant, anti-multicultural sentiments on his Facebook page. How widespread, how organized are these views in Norway?

LURAS: It is a bit difficult to say. I mean, they are definitely quite visible in the sort of the various chat rooms and commentary fields, etcetera. And they are growing part of a general sentiment which is skeptical towards immigration and the causes and what that does to the Norwegian culture really. I mean, it's mostly on the internet. I mean, the physical organizational structural aspects of them are quite weak. And that's also why largely I think they have flown under the radar of the security services.

SIMON: And can you help us fathom why in his mind this person, the man who's in custody might target the prime minister's office and then the youth camp for the Labor Party?

LURAS: Well, yes. I think that these groups of people which he represent don't feel that the normal democratic processes and the elections really are able to represent their view, that sort of the system is stacked against them. Then I think, you know, it's perhaps even inspired by other kind of terrorist groups, like al-Qaida. Very limited number of people through their extreme actions get enormous political impact and reaction from society overall. So they see the Labor Party, which has been ruling in Norway for a long time, as responsible for opening up Norway's borders, getting immigrants in without that having been done in an explicit dialogue with the Norwegian people.

SIMON: And when these attacks occurred, were there a lot of Norwegians who, for better or for worse, their first instinct was to suppose it was one of the Islamic groups?

LURAS: Yes. That was the first reaction of so-called experts like myself and the commentaries in the media. You know, I think, also ordinary people, really, because that's been our recent past. We had some arrests last year of people that allegedly were plotting attacks in Norway. We've had things going on in Sweden and Denmark. And then Norway has been part of the war in Afghanistan. The most of the Norwegian security forces have explicitly warned that it was only a matter of time before an attack would also hit Olso. But we jumped perhaps too fast to conclusions.

SIMON: And what was the reaction when Norwegians learned that the man in custody now is Norwegian?

LURAS: I mean, surprise. But for some people, including myself, actually a bit relief as well, in the sense that it will probably be easier to cope in a rational way - relatively rational way - with the consequences and the aftermath of this incident, when it came from inside of the mainstream ethnic Norwegian community.

SIMON: Helge Luras is with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. Thank you very much.

LURAS: You're welcome.

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