Terror Threats Force Norway to Close Embassy in Afghan Capital

Norway closed its embassy in the Afghan capital because of terror threats on Sunday, nearly four weeks after a suicide attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul killed eight people including a Norwegian journalist.

Foreign Ministry officials declined to describe the threats, or reveal whether they were specifically directed at Norway.

The Nordic nation has been singled out at least twice as a potential target by Al Qaeda, and recently confirmed it would send more troops to the NATO force in Afghanistan.

"The embassy has been closed down today due to terror threats," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kristin Melsom said. She would not describe the threats and said it was too early to speculate on how long the embassy would remain closed.

Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported on its Web site that the embassy had sent an e-mail to Norwegians in Afghanistan, advising them that the embassy would be closed until further notice because of a possible threat.

A reporter for that paper was among those killed when militants with suicide vests, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles attacked the Serena hotel in Kabul on Jan. 15. Norway's foreign minister was in the hotel at the time, but was unhurt. He later said he did not think the attack was aimed at him.

Nevertheless, the attack had likely led Norway to review the threat level against its interests in Afghanistan, said Arne Strand, an Afghanistan expert at the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway's second biggest city.

"The fact that the embassy has been closed indicates that the threat this time has been aimed more directly at Norway," he told The Associated Press.

In a security document dated Jan. 20, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry listed 15 locations — including the Norwegian Embassy — that could be targeted by militants.

"According to detective reports, the enemies plan to launch a series of suicide attacks, explosions and harmful activities in Kabul city," said the report, which was obtained by The Associated Press in Kabul. "(F)or this purpose, the enemies' first plan is to target some more vulnerable infrastructures of Kabul city."

The embassies of Sweden, Belgium, India, Turkey, Finland and Indonesia were also listed. Government offices and three well known Kabul hotels, including the Serena, were also said to be possible targets.

Norway in past years has been singled out at least twice among nations Al Qaeda has said should be targeted because of its participation in the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan and a previous deployment in Iraq.

The founder of the Al Qaeda-linked Iraqi extremist group Ansar al-Islam, Kurdish leader Mullah Krekar, is a refugee in Norway, but was declared a threat to national security in 2005 and ordered deported. He has not yet been expelled.

Norway was among the Western countries threatened by extremists during the uproar over Danish cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in early 2006, because a Norwegian newspaper was among the publications that had reprinted the cartoons.

Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strom-Erichsen on Friday confirmed that Norway will add 200 extra troops to its 500 soldiers in Afghanistan with the deployment of special forces and helicopters in March.

Strand noted that in addition to its NATO troops, Norway recently raised anti-corruption efforts on the agenda of its Afghanistan assistance program.

"I think that is the right thing to do, but it is also risky as important Afghan figures might feel their power threatened. As a result they may turn to terror threats as retaliation," Strand said.