Terror threats prompt Norway to close embassy in Afghanistan

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Associated Press Writer

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Norway closed its embassy in the Afghan capital because of terror threats Sunday, nearly a month after a Norwegian journalist was among eight people killed in a suicide attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul.

The Nordic nation, which recently said it would send more troops to the NATO force in Afghanistan, has been singled out at least twice as a potential target by al-Qaida.

"The embassy has been closed down today due to terror threats," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kristin Melsom said. She would not describe the threats and said it was too early to say how long the embassy would be closed.

A reporter for the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet was among those killed when militants with suicide vests, grenades and AK-47 rifles attacked the Serena hotel in Kabul on Jan. 15. Norway's foreign minister was in the hotel at the time, but he was unhurt and later said he did not think the attack was aimed at him.

Nevertheless, the attack likely led Norway to review the threat level against its interests in Afghanistan, said Arne Strand, an Afghanistan expert at the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway's second biggest city.

"The fact that the embassy has been closed indicates that the threat this time has been aimed more directly at Norway," he told The Associated Press.

In a security document dated Jan. 20, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry listed 15 locations -- including Norway's embassy -- that could be targeted by militants.

"According to detective reports, the enemies plan to launch a series of suicide attacks, explosions and harmful activities in Kabul city," said the report obtained by The Associated Press. "The enemies' first plan is to target some more vulnerable infrastructures of Kabul city."

The embassies of Sweden, Belgium, India, Turkey, Finland and Indonesia were also listed. Government offices and three well-known Kabul hotels, including the Serena, were also said to be possible targets.

Al-Qaida has singled out Norway at least twice in past years among nations that should be targeted because of its participation in the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan and a previous deployment in Iraq.

The founder of the al-Qaida-linked Iraqi extremist group Ansar al-Islam, Kurdish leader Mullah Krekar, is a refugee in Norway but was declared a threat to national security in 2005 and ordered deported. He has not yet been expelled.

Norway was also among the Western countries threatened by extremists during the uproar over Danish caricature of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in early 2006 because a Norwegian newspaper reprinted the drawings.

On Friday, Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strom-Erichsen said Norway will add 200 extra troops to its 500 soldiers in Afghanistan with the deployment of special forces and helicopters in March.

Strand noted that in addition to its NATO troops, Norway recently raised anti-corruption efforts on the agenda of its Afghanistan assistance program.

"I think that is the right thing to do, but it is also risky as important Afghan figures might feel their power threatened. As a result they may turn to terror threats as retaliation," Strand said.


Associated Press Writer Jason Straziuso in Kabul contributed to this report.