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European police probe Norway attacker's links to right-wing groups

/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Police across Europe are investigating Norway gunman Anders Behring Breivik’s claims of links to right-wing extremists across Europe and are examining the activities of other groups.

Europol, the European law enforcement agency, has requested support increased from countries around Europe, including the U.K., to better understand the activities of right-wing extremist groups. The organization's specialist anti-terror unit, made up of 50 investigators from around Europe, will also assist the Norwegian police in their enquiry.

"In the past, we have seen violence from right-wing extremists, but not acts of terror, so it was surprising to everyone to see" this attack, Soren Pedersen, a spokesman for Europol, told msnbc.com. "This is not a pattern we have seen so far. We see now that it is quite important to keep following" these groups.

There is no evidence thus far that Breivik had help planning Friday's attacks. He has however, been linked to UK groups like the far-right English Defense League, which says it peacefully protests Islamic Extremism in the UK. Breivik mentioned the group in his 1,500 page manifesto, saying that he used to have more than 600 EDL members as Facebook friends and that he “supplied them with processed ideological material (including rhetorical strategies) in the very beginning.”

The EDL strongly denied links to Breivik but did acknowledge that “there’s an undercurrent of anger across Britain, across the whole of Europe,” leader Stephen Lennon told the BBC on Monday night.

Searchlight, a UK magazine dedicated to fighting "the politics of hate," said on Tuesday that Breivik exchanged messages with members of the EDL online, using his internet pseudonym, Sigurd Jorsalfare.

"To you all good English men and women, just wanted to say that you're a blessing to all in Europe, in these dark times all of Europe are looking to you in surch of inspiration, courage and even hope that we might turn this evil trend with islamisation [sic] all across our continent. Well, just wanted to say keep up the good work it's good to see others that care about their country and heritage," he wrote, according to Searchlight.

In response to another of his posts, a member of the EDL, identified as "Concerned", wrote to him: "Bravo sigurd admire your views and courage. no surrender and welcome.”

Daryl Hobson, an EDL demonstration organizer, told the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper that Breivik had met members of the group.

“He had about 150 EDL on his list … bar one or two doubt the rest of us ever met him, altho [sic] he did come over for one of our demo [sic] in 2010 … but what he did was wrong. RIP to all who died as a result of his actions,” Hobson said in an online post according to the Telegraph.

According to the Telegraph website, U.K. police are interested in Breivik’s claim that he was recruited into a secret “Knights of Templar” group that aimed to save Europe from Muslims, and that he was in touch with a mentor from England called “Richard”.

New priorities?
Finding far-right groups in their mainly online haunts will be tough for police who for years gave Islamist militants top priority.

Police and experts point to the Internet's role in spreading the racist material that shaped killer Breivik's extreme views, but also highlight the difficulty in policing dynamic online forums without undermining civil liberties.

The nation looks to rally after a bombing and shooting spree leaves 77 people dead.

"Individuals who belong to anti-Islamic groups in Norway are first and foremost found on various social media ... Increased activism among Norwegian anti-Islamic organizations can however also increase the use of violence," Norway's PST police security service said in a January report.

Such an assessment may now appear prescient, but the report led on the threat from Islamist militants, and concluded that far-right groups pose no "serious threat" to Norway.

In nearby Denmark, where far-right elements are also active, police are also on the defensive, insisting they already closely monitor the extreme right.

"Detentions have continuously been made, most recently in January 2011 when a man linked to right-wing extremist circles was detained and where a search discovered chemicals that could have been used in bomb manufacturing," Danish intelligence and security chief Jakob Scharf said in a weekend statement.

Magnus Ranstorp, research director at Sweden's Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies, said while police may have a grasp on some traditional extremist activity, the online world posed more of a challenge.

"Assessments are that it (far-right extremism) is at a steady level and authorities have pretty good control over it," he said. "Where they don't have great control is meeting on the Internet and the Internet's central role in all of this."