In recent years, a total of ten Norwegian citizens were convicted of participating in terrorist activities in the Middle East or providing material support to Daesh* in Syria and Iraq. As of today, four of them have been released; one was let out just recently, national broadcaster NRK reported.
Two of the now-released convicts were "foreign warriors" in Syria sentenced to over four years in prison for participation in a terrorist organization. The other two received shorter sentences for providing material support and attempting to join Daesh.
While the Norwegian Criminal Justice Directorate was reticent about the former terrorists' attitudes and ways, the Police Security Service (PST) expressed concern over their current activities. "It's a very multi-faceted picture," PST chief Benedicte Bjørnland said.
"There is every reason to keep a watchful eye on people who have served terror-related sentences," Bjørnland said.
This take was shared by professor Tore Bjørgo, the leader of the Center for Extremism Research at the University of Oslo, who has written a follow-up on "foreign fighters." According to Bjørgo, some of the former convicts constitute a lingering threat.
"Some are completely harmless, while others may still have extremist attitudes, and could pose a security risk. Some of them though are disillusioned and would prefer to leave this behind," Bjørgo said.
According to Bjørgo, imprisonment is a golden opportunity to change the attitudes of the convicts.
"Prison as such is not enough, though, one must also try to influence them, so that they don't pose a risk in the future," Bjørgo said.
Terrorism researcher Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI) estimated that there are at least 2,000 Islamist extremist across Europe, who have been either engaged in combat overseas or served a prison sentence. If only a small proportion of them continues with their activities, it implies a significant risk of terrorism, Hegghammer argued.
"Research on terrorists in Europe indicates that people with experience in "foreign warfare" and people who have previously been involved in extreme Islamist circles get involved in new terrorist plots. People should get another chance, but should they get engaged in activities we deem to be dangerous for the nation of Norway, we will follow up," Bjørnland argued.
In 2014, the Norwegian government presented an action plan against radicalization and extremism, with specific measures to help extremists find a place in society again. One of them is a so-called "mentoring scheme," where the convicts receive instructions from qualified personnel. An evaluation of the plan is currently ongoing.
According to Marianne Vollan, the head of the Norwegian Criminal Justice Directorate, positive feedback has been received. The "mentoring scheme" should thus be retained and expanded, she argued.
* Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/IS) is a terrorist group banned in Russia