Norway: First terrorism trial ends with acquittal

Norway's first terrorism trial ended Tuesday with the acquittal of Arfan Qadeer Bhatti, who was charged with firing shots at a Jewish synagogue in Oslo and planning embassy attacks. Bhatti's alleged accomplices were also acquitted, but Bhatti was convicted for other shootings and for attempted murder.

Bhatti, who has a long criminal record, was thus ordered held in preventive custody for up to eight years, and possibly longer under the relatively harsh Norwegian sentence known as forvaring. It can result in indefinite custody.

Bhatti and his accomplices were charged in both the September 2006 shots fired at the synagogue in Oslo and with planning terrorist attacks against the Israeli and American embassies in Oslo. Bhatti was further charged with firing shots at the suburban Bærum home of one of the leaders of a failed pyramid scheme, and threatening his family because the man owned Bhatti money. Those charges resulted in convictions, also for attempted murder.

Police believed they had a strong case against Bhatti, not least after they were allowed to play in court audio tapes of Bhatti's phone conversations that investigators had recorded secretly. The tapes were incriminating, revealing strong language used by Bhatti against Israel and the US and his desire to hurt them.

His defense attorney had dismissed Bhatti's remarks as overly emotional talk, and argued that Bhatti never intended to follow through on the threats he made.

The judge in an Oslo city court largely bought that argument, claiming that the demand for strong and clear evidence of terrorist activity wasn't met. Judge Kim Heger also noted Norway's anti-terror law demands strong evidence that the alleged terrorist act was carried out willfully and intentionally.

The judge ruled that it couldn't be proved that either Bhatti or accomplice Andreas Bog Kristiansen entered into a binding and intentional agreement to carry out terrorist acts on the Israeli and American embassies. Heger said he could see no hard evidence for that, nor could he see that the shots fired at the synagogue amounted to a terrorist act.

Vandalism, not terrorism

Rather, he said, the court viewed the synagogue shooting as an act of serious vandalism. He conceded that the taped recordings of Bhatti's verbal threats contained frightening thoughts and ideas, but ruled that they needed to be understood in their proper context.

Bhatti has been held in police custody since being arrested shortly after the synagogue shooting. He denied having anything to do with either the synagogue or Bærum shootings. Bhatti admitted on the opening day of his trial earlier this year, however, that he "might" have sent some mobile phone text messages that "could" have been interpreted as "frightening."

But he claimed no knowledge of or involvement in the shootings, and suggested the Bærum shooting stemmed from a conflict involving stolen property.

Source: Aftenposten (English)

See also: Norway: Beheading as a way of working out frustrations, Norway: Terrorism, Norway: Terrorism plans

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