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OSLO, Norway (AP) - Three men were acquitted for lack of evidence Tuesday in Norway's first terrorism trial since anti-terror laws were strengthened after the 2001 attacks in the United States.
The Oslo District Court said prosecutors had failed to prove charges that Arfan Bhatti and two other suspects had plotted attacks against Israeli and U.S. embassies in 2006 _ attacks that never took place.
The court found Bhatti guilty, however, of being behind a shooting at a synagogue in Oslo on Sept. 17, 2006, but concluded it had not been an act of terror. No one was injured in the incident.
Bhatti, 30, was also found guilty of the illegal weapons possession, making threats and being an accomplice in the attempted murder of a Norwegian businessman in 2006.
Bhatti, who has a criminal record, was sentenced to eight years in prison with the possibility of an extension if authorities believe it would be unsafe to release him. The two other defendants _ Andreas Bog Kristiansen, 28, and Ibrahim Oezbabacan, 29 _ were released after being acquitted. Kristiansen was found not guilty of plotting attacks against embassies, while Oezbabacan was found innocent of firing shots or being an accomplice in the synagogue attack.
All three are Norwegian citizens.
The charges of plotting embassy attacks partly were based on a police recording of the suspects talking about ways to attack the embassies.
The court described the monitored conversation as «frightening,» but did not find sufficient proof that it was «a concrete, final and seriously meant agreement» to attack the embassies.
Judge Kim Heger, who read the verdict, said that demands for clear evidence in terror cases were very strict.
«The threshold for being charged under (the anti-terrorism law) was designed by the lawmakers to be high,» Heger said.
The trial opened in the Oslo court on March 31. It was Norway's first anti-terror case after the country tightened security and legislation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
It was not immediately clear if prosecutors would appeal the case.
Alert over wanted al-Qaeda suspect who may be heading to Britain
An international alert has been issued warning that one of Britain’s most wanted al-Qaeda suspects has been trying to secure a passport and may be trying to return to Britain.
By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent Published: 7:48PM BST 20 Aug 2010
Passport photographs of Ibrahim Adam, 23, who has been on the run for three years, have been discovered after British intelligence began unraveling one of the biggest terrorist networks discovered since September 11.
... The photographs, which show Adam with four different hairstyles and clothing have been circulated to law enforcement agencies across the world as part of an international alert.
Adam, 23, is the younger brother of Anthony Garcia, one of the men arrested for plotting to blow up the Ministry of Sound night club or the Bluewater Shopping Centre with a fertiliser bomb in 2004. ''' ... A fourth cell, allegedly led by Mikael Davud, a 39-year-old Chinese Uighur with Norwegian citizenship, was arrested in Norway in July, accused of plotting to blow up unknown targets using July 7-style explosives.
Adam’s passport photographs were discovered in an apartment in Oslo after undercover Norwegian security service officers broke into the flat.
Defense attorneys for three men jailed in Oslo on terrorism charges said they couldn’t respond to new reports of more specific charges against their clients, other than to repeat their clients’ earlier denials. Arild Humlen, for example, says he’s bound by declarations of confidentiality.
His client, terror suspect Mikael Davud, is now reportedly suspected of running a terror cell from Oslo. The British newspaper Daily Telegraph reported over the weekend that prosecutors believe Davud led one of four identified terror cells developed by the late Rashid Rauf, a leader of terror organization al-Qaeda.
Rauf was killed in Pakistan in the fall of 2008, and Davud allegedly was in Pakistan shortly before that. Neither Norway’s police intelligence unit PST nor Humlen will confirm, however, that Davud was in Pakistan at that time.
Nor will either PST officials nor Humlen comment on the Daily Telegraph report, which suggests Davud was trying to arrange a false Norwegian passport for another terror suspect, Ibrahim Adam, who fled Britain and whose brother is in prison in the UK for planning bomb attacks.
Alleged photo evidence The Daily Telegraph reported that four passport photos showing Adam with various hair styles and clothing were found in Davud’s apartment in Oslo. It already has been reported that one of the other terror suspects, who also was an informant for PST, had been asked to help arrange a false passport.
The three other terror cells linked to Rauf are or were based in Belgium, England and the US. The Daily Telegraph also reported that Davud is suspected of planning to build a bomb similar to those used in London bombings.
Humlen was clearly taken aback by the detailed report in the British newspaper and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Sunday that it was impossible for him to respond, other than to say that Davud “naturally believes the information can’t be correct.”
Repeat denials Davud and his two fellow suspects have all denied having anything to do with terrorist plots. “I can only go from what Davud says himself,” Humlen said, “that he has not belonged to any network, that he hasn’t had contact with any network and that he has no intention of carrying out any actions directed against Norwegians or other interests in Norway.”
Humlen said he’s bound court-ordered confidentiality agreements, “but it’s quite meaningless when the case in such detail is spread out in international media.” He told NRK that he thus fears for his client’s right to a fair trial.
Davud and the two other suspects who are legal residents of Norway, David Jakobsen and Shawan Sadek Bujak, remain in custody and in full isolation at separate prisons in the Oslo area.
The three immigrants to Norway who’ve been charged with planning a terrorist attack are being allowed to see their families for the first time since they were arrested and jailed in early July. Another terror suspect from Somalia, meanwhile, was also in an Oslo court this week.
The three men arrested in July were ordered held for another four weeks on Monday but the court turned down the prosecution’s request that they continue to be held in isolation. In two weeks, they’ll be allowed access to the news media, and letters and visits will only be monitored, not forbidden. They’ll be allowed to see their families beginning this week.
Defense attorneys believe their clients will remain in custody until their trials start next year, probably not until autumn 2011.
Meanwhile, in another terror case unfolding in Oslo, a 40-year-old Somalian-Norwegian man denied charges that he has helped finance terrorist activities and supported the terrorist group al-Shabaab.
The defendant was arrested after police claimed he sent at least NOK 200,000 (about USD 30,000) to central leaders of the group in Somalia. Fellow Somalians in Oslo have supported his claims of innocence, saying he was merely sending financial aid home to his family. Many of them have likened the terrorist charges to an assault on the Somalian community in Norway.
UPDATED: Two of the three Norwegian residents arrested on terrorism charges last summer confessed in Oslo on Tuesday to plans to launch terrorist attacks. Their targets: China’s embassy in Oslo and the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
The communications chief for Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste), Trond Hugubakken, first confirmed to VG Nett “that one of those charged in the terrorism case has confessed to planning terror.”
When asked what was the target of the terror plan, Hugubakken said it probably was not in Norway, despite earlier indications that it was. Asked whether the target was the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which sparked outrage in the muslim world when it published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in 2005, Hugubakken told VG Nett: “Yes, according to what he has declared, it seems the newspaper was their target.”
Confessed under questioning Terrorist suspect Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak, a 37-year-old Iraqi Kurd who arrived in Norway seeking asylum in 1999, was called in by PST for questioning on Tuesday morning. He and the two other terrorist suspects are being held in separate prisons in the Oslo area, and now PST is calling them in for questioning as well.
One of them, a 31-year-old man from Uzbekistan who also came to Norway as an asylum seeker and changed his name to David Jakobsen, has been an informant for PST since allegedly growing uneasy over what the two others were planning. All three, though, are suspected of running a terror cell from Oslo so he was arrested in July as well. There also have been reports that they were trying to arrange a false passport for a British terror suspect, and that they had been been trying to build bombs.
Jakobsen had seemed to be the most cooperative of the three after admitting to being an informant, appearing in court and allowing himself to be photographed. The third suspect, Uyghur asylum seeker Muhammed Rashidin who became a Norwegian citizen in 2007 and changed his name to Mikael Davud, has been considered the leader of the three and the most uncooperative.
Both Jakobsen and Davud have denied having anything to do with terror plans, as had Bujak. Jakobsen and Davud were brought in for new questioning on Tuesday, where they were confronted with Bujak’s confession.
Changed his story Later in the day, Davud changed his story. He denied targeting Jyllands-Posten but reportedly admitted to planning terrorist attacks against “Chinese interests outside China.” Davud’s defense attorney Carl Konow Rieber-Mohn told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that his local target was the Chinese Embassy in Oslo’s Vinderen district.
Rieber-Mohn told NRK his client didn’t think diplomacy would help “liberate the Uyghurs’ area, which now is occupied by the Chinese. It’s an occupation that has gone on for 80 years, and he wanted to employ strong methods.” That included “building a bomb” and setting it off at the embassy, which is located in a mostly residential area.
Arild Humlen, another defense attorney in the terrorist case, also told news bureau NTB that Davud had admitted plans to attack Chinese interests, and he “used the other two as errand boys.” Humlen said neither of the two others were told about Davud’s motives.
Humlen said Davud told police on Tuesday that many of his family members and relatives had been killed by the Chinese. He denied having ties to the Al-Qaida terror network.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre revealed last month that Chinese authorities have wanted Norway to extradite Davud back to China, which he fled in the 1990s. Støre made it clear to his hosts during a trip to China in August that Davud is now a Norwegian citizen, would be tried in Norway and would not be extradited.
The Chinese Embassy in Oslo issued a statement suggesting that the arrests in Oslo demonstrated that forces from the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement” are “ganging up” with international terrorist forces and “will continue to plot violent terrorist activities no matter where they are.” The embassy called for strengthening cooperation between China and Norway to “crack down” on the “East Turkistan forces.”
‘Shocking’ The editor of Jyllands-Posten, Jørn Mikkelsen, told his own newspaper that news of the confessed terrorism attack plan was “extremely shocking” for all of the paper’s employees and their families.
The paper has been under near-constant threat, though, since publishing the Mohammed caricatures five years ago. Last year, two American men were arrested in Chicago, suspected of planning an attack on the paper, while a 40-year-old man injured by his own bomb in Copenhagen earlier this month also was suspected of planning an attack on the newspaper.