Norway no longer safe from harm

Coffins of four Norwegian soldiers killed in Afghanistan The deaths of Norwegian soldiers brought the Afghan war home

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Most Norwegians reacted with disbelief when al-Qaeda - seemingly out-of-the-blue -threatened to attack the Scandinavian country back in 2003.

There was even speculation al-Qaeda had mistaken Norway for neighbouring Denmark, which at the time had sent troops to support the US invasion of Iraq.

The sparsely populated and largely peaceful country was not used to being at the receiving end of either international or domestic terror threats.

But there has been much water under the bridge in the seven years since that threat, and Thursday's announcement of the arrest of three people on suspicion of preparing a terrorist attack - one of them a Norwegian citizen - has so far been met with less incredulity.

In 2006 Norwegian embassies in the Middle East were attacked following the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Danish and Norwegian newspapers. International news media broadcast pictures of the Norwegian flag being burned in protest.

The small Scandinavian country was on the receiving end of hateful threats as never before.

Many Islamists will also be aware of Norway's continued presence in Afghanistan. Just last week four Norwegian soldiers killed by a roadside bomb returned to be buried, bringing that conflict much closer to home for most Norwegians, too.

Norway's capital, Oslo, has also seen rising tensions between radical Muslims and other citizens - including both moderate Muslims and non-Muslims.

Largely secular and liberal Norwegians have increasingly voiced their concern in public over the level of anti-Western rhetoric being used by some Muslim radicals in mosques and in the Norwegian media.

Immunity expired

Norway has played an important diplomatic role in the Middle East since the 1993 Oslo Agreement, which brought Israeli and Palestinian leaders face-to-face for the first time.

But this involvement has also meant Norway has raised its head above the parapet. Norway is reportedly perceived as a puppet for the USA and Israel in radical circles.

All this has meant that many Norwegians are coming to terms with the fact that their country - home to the Nobel Peace Prize - can no longer be considered a neutral peace facilitator, immune to international terror threats.

These arrests are unlikely to be met with a shrug of the shoulders - but fewer people than before will say: "I never thought it could happen here."

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