Norway authorises police to carry firearms in face of increased terror threat

OSLO (AFP) - Norway will give its usually unarmed police force firearms for the next month in response to the "likely" risk of a terrorist attack, the police said Tuesday.

"Uniformed officers on surveillance and intervention duties will carry a gun starting today," Norway's National Police Directorate said in a statement.

"The reason has to do with the risk assessment by PST (Norwegian intelligence services), which indicates that the police and the army are possible targets of terrorist attacks."

On November 5, the PST said that "within the coming 12 months, it is likely that Norway will be threatened by terrorist attacks or exposed to attempted strikes", referring to recent attacks perpetrated or thwarted in Canada, Britain and Australia.

Norwegian authorities have said they fear the return of seasoned and radicalised extremists to the country after fighting in the Syrian conflict.

According to PST, about 60 people with links to Norway have taken part or still participate in combats in the war-torn country.

"Four weeks (the expected duration of the measure) could be considered too short a period, but it's because we want to make a new assessment" within a month, Justice Minister Anders Anundsen told Norwegian news agency NTB last week.

Norway is known as a generally peaceful country, but was shaken in 2011 by the bloody attacks of right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people.

Although police in the Nordic country usually work unarmed, they can use fire arms which are locked away in police cars.

The Norwegian army has recommended its personnel not to wear uniforms when off duty.

The decision has sparked a storm of criticism from Norwegian Internet users - opposed to arming the police - many of whom pointed to the shooting of an African American teenager in Ferguson, US, by a white police officer last August.