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Terror attacks in Norway likely to revive study of right-wing extremism

Researchers in Norway are predicting that the recent domestic terror attacks, which at the time of Research Europe going to press had claimed the lives of 76 people, will shift the focus of the country’s terrorism research from Islamic fundamentalism to right-wing extremism.

The two attacks, which took place on 22 July, targeted the Norwegian government and a political summer camp for students and young people. The first attack, a car bomb which detonated in Oslo’s government quarters, killed eight and wounded several others, many critically. Less than two hours later on the island of Utøya, north west of Oslo, a gunman disguised as a policeman opened fire at a camp organised by the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party, killing at least 68 attendees.

The Norwegian Police Service has since arrested 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist who admits carrying out the attacks. According to his lawyer, Geir Lippestad, Breivik targeted the Norwegian Labour Party because of its support for multicultural social policies and because he believes he is waging a war against the “Islamification” of Europe.

Tore Bjørgo, a former director of research at the Norwegian Police University College, believes the attacks will spark a renewed interest in research into domestic right-wing extremism, an area which has been overshadowed by Islamic terror research since the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC.

Bjørgo says that funding for research into right-wing groups in Norway peaked during the 1990s, following extreme racist violence in the early part of the decade in Brumunddal, a small town near Lillehammer just north of Oslo. However, a combination of the 11 September attacks and a reduction in race-related violence in Norway has led to more funding for Islamist terror research, something Bjørgo predicts is about to change.

“Our problem with right-wing extremism faded after 2001 because of the measures we had already implemented in the 1990s. But now there will be a shift rebalancing the focus from research into Islamic terrorism to far-right terrorism,” he says.

Spending more money on terrorism research could bring Norway in line with countries that have been targeted in the past by terrorist plots, says Anders Ravik Jupskås, a researcher at the University of Oslo’s political science department. “Neither Islamic or right-wing extremism research has had a lot of research focus in recent years compared to countries like the UK and Sweden,” he says.

But any amount of research may not have stopped Breivik from carrying out the attacks, says Bjørgo. A determined or deranged individual will always be able to pose an unpredictable threat to society, he says.