On September 15, PJMedia ran a piece by me about the famous Muhammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who a couple of days earlier was scheduled to have taken part in a press conference in Oslo, Norway, to celebrate the publication of a new children’s book for which he had drawn the illustrations. Instead of attending the conference, however, Westergaard rushed back to his native Denmark the day before. The reason originally given for his cancellation was that he had taken ill; but it then emerged that there had been concerns about his safety, and that the report of illness was a cover story. Reports were inconsistent: while the Norwegian security police, the PST, claimed that Westergaard himself had made the decision to return to Denmark, Geirr Lystrup, author of the book for which he had done the illustrations, said that the PST had made the call. Meanwhile the nature of the threat that had led to Westergaard’s departure remained murky.
Since then there’s been a bit more news, though contradictions, and questions, remain. Two days after my article appeared, the Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported that the reason why Westergaard was hustled out of the country was that “a known Norwegian criminal had acquired automatic weapons and explosives” with which he intended to kill the cartoonist in a devastating act of Islamic terrorism. This criminal was arrested on the morning of September 13 — the day on which the press conference was to take place — for a traffic violation. But despite the arrest, Westergaard was asked to return home, apparently because the PST still feared that associates of the “known criminal” — who has not been named — would carry out the planned attack. Why those associates, too, were not placed under arrest remained unclear. So did the reason why the “known criminal” was arrested for a traffic violation and not for planning an act of terrorism. Indeed, there was a great deal that remained unclear.
The September 17 article in Dagbladet contended that the decision to leave Norway was Westergaard’s own. Yet on the same day the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten reported that Westergaard had told a TV interviewer that the PST had “urged” him to go, and in an article posted at the website of Norwegian state television, NRK, on the evening of September 16, Lystrup appeared to indicate that the PST did indeed tell Westergaard to leave.
Both Westergaard and Lystrup confirmed that the cover story about Westergaard being sick had been the PST’s idea. Lystrup called this stratagem “pathetic” and argued that, rather than asking him and Westergaard to lie, the PST should have admitted publicly that it was faced with a terrorist threat from which it did not have the resources to protect them. For his part, Westergaard lamented in his TV interview that the whole episode represented a step backwards for freedom of expression.
Then, on September 18, Dagbladet reported that it had been in contact with the “known criminal” and that he had denied any involvement in a planned terrorist attack against Westergaard. He had also denied that he was a criminal, describing himself instead as a “former criminal.” Dagbladet said that the “known criminal” was “well known by both the regular police and the security police,” had been convicted of crimes several times, and had ties, according to PST, to “an extreme Islamist milieu.” There was no mention of whether the “known criminal” was still in police custody when he spoke to Dagbladet, or of what legal measures, if any, were being taken against him. Nor was it clear why the PST was consistently refusing to answer reporters’ questions. Why hadn’t the police held a single press conference about this sensational near-calamity? Indeed, the whole situation seemed surpassingly odd.