In the immediate aftermath of the attack in Oslo, speculation about the party that might be responsible has centered on Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish militant group that has been tied by U.S. officials to al-Qaeda and that carried out attacks on American troops and civilians in Iraq at the height of the war there.
The U.S. ambassador to Norway, Barry White, said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon that investigators were still assembling information about the attacks and had not reached any conclusions on who was responsible.
“They’re still looking at it,” White said. “Often times the early answers are the wrong ones.”
[Note from editors: In subsequent news reports, officials said the attacker was a Norwegian man. Update 1 PM ET Saturday: Norwegian media identified the suspect as Anders Behring Breivik, who has been arrested and charged with planting the bomb and carrying out the shooting, attacks that left at least 91 people dead. “What we know is that he is right wing and he is Christian fundamentalist,” deputy police chief Roger Andresen said Saturday morning at a televised news conference.]
Still, Ansar — a Sunni group that has been formally designated a terrorist organization by the United States — could make good sense if for no other reason than the timing of the attack.
As J.M. Berger notes over at Foreign Policy, the group’s founder, known as Mullah Krekar, was arrested just last week for allegedly threatening Norwegian politicians with death if he were deported from the country.
Krekar, an Iraqi Kurd, has lived in Norway since being granted political asylum there two decades ago. He was once reportedly the target of a failed abduction attempt by the CIA. And Norway has previously attempted to deport him, only to suspend the move out of fears that he could be tortured if sent back to Iraq.
While he has acknowledged being a founder of Ansar, Krekar has denied any link to terrorism; other Ansar leaders have also denied any links to al-Qaeda.
Norway has far-right groups with a history of commiting political violence. It also has a major terrorism trial opening in October, which could also make it a target by al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Norwegian authorities are prosecuting two men who were arrested last year for allegedly planning attacks in Oslo and Denmark. They were also linked to plots in the United States and Britain, including a planned attack on the New York subway.
The men, both foreign-born residents of Norway, were allegedly planning to attack a Danish newspaper that had printed cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and the Chinese Embassy in Oslo.
Officials said they were linked to terrorist operatives in the United States and Britain by coordinators in Pakistan. Norwegian security official were in New York last month to interview Najibullah Zazi, who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in the foiled plot to attack the subway system in New York.
“Norway has had problems with indigenous jihadis and its foreign policy has been closely linked with the United States so there are at least two possible dimensions here,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. “The fact that there were able to get a car bomb that close to government buildings would suggest some sophistication.”
Hoffman noted that if an al-Qaeda link is established to the attack in Oslo it would be the first successful attack against a Western city by the organization or its supporters since the London underground bombings in 2005.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that a militant calling himself Abu Suleiman al-Nasser had claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Site Intelligence Group. On a jihadist Web forum, Nasser asserted the attack was “another message” from mujahideen fighters and speculated on the reasons Norway was targeted but did not claim responsibility.