OSLO, Norway – Norwegians, proud of their role as a global peacemaker, were puzzled and concerned Wednesday that a leading Al Qaeda member singled out their country in a terrorist threat.
The Arab television station Al-Jazeera aired an audio tape purportedly by Ayman al-Zawahri, the top lieutenant of Usama bin Laden, urging renewed attacks on the United States, Britain and Australia, which participated in the war against Iraq.
But the inclusion of the Scandinavian nation in his warning drew questions.
Norway didn't support the war in Iraq but sent troops and fighter planes to help oust Al Qaeda and the Taliban forces from Afghanistan.
"We were surprised," Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman Karsten Klepsvik said, adding that experts were racing to try to figure out why Al Qaeda would want to threaten Norway.
He said Norwegian interests, including embassies in the Middle East, were advised of the threat.
Brynjar Lia, a terrorism expert with the government's Norwegian Defense Research Establishment in the capital, Oslo, said there plenty of reasons for radical Muslims to hate Norway as an oil-rich, highly developed and overwhelmingly Lutheran kingdom in the north.
"But the [Al Qaeda] list of enemy states is getting to be very long and I would think Norway would be very far down the list," he said.
Others said al-Zawahri may have confused Norway with neighboring Denmark, which supported the U.S.-led war on Iraq by sending a submarine and escort ship.
NATO-member Norway has played pivotal roles in helping settle world conflicts and is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Lia said that Oslo, site of key Israel-Palestinian negotiations, also symbolized the Mideast peace process that some want to stop. Norway secretly brokered a 1993 accord and has been involved in trying to find a lasting peace there.
Norway also chaired the U.N. Security Council's Sanctions Committee on Iraq until last year, and is investigating Mullah Krekar, a refugee in Norway who led the Kurdish Islamic military group Ansar al-Islam suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda.
Krekar's lawyer, Brynjar Meling, said his client has no ties to the terror group and has no idea why it would threaten Norway.