Norway intel agency takes over probe into drone sightings

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Norway’s domestic security agency on Wednesday took over investigations of drone sightings near key infrastructure sites hours after the airport in the country’s second-largest city briefly closed due to area residents spotting at least one drone nearby.

Bergen Airport, which is near Norway’s main naval base, shut down at around 6:30 a.m. when the area’s air space was closed and reopened 2½ hours later. Bergen police spokesman Ørjan Djuvik said several drone sightings were reported near the airport.

“There can also be observations that could be other phenomenon, for instance weather,” Djuvik said. “We are sure that there is at least one.”

North of Bergen, a drone was reported near the small, domestic Foerde airport, which also closed temporarily, Norwegian news agency NTB said.

Numerous drone sightings have been reported near offshore oil and gas platforms and other Norwegian infrastructure in recent months, Hedvig Moe, deputy chief of the Norwegian Police Security Service, said.

“We believe (the drone flights are) carried out in a way that makes it difficult to find out who is really behind it,” but Norwegian authorities suspect Russian involvement in operating unmanned aerial vehicles that “can be used for espionage or simply to create fear,” Moe said.

“Russia simply has more to gain and less to lose by conducting intelligence activities in Norway now compared to the situation before the war,” she said during a news conference. “It is simply because Russia is in a pressed situation as a result of the war (in Ukraine) and is isolated by sanctions.”

”We are in a tense security-political situation, and at the same time a complex and unclear threat picture that can change in a relatively short time,” she said.

At least seven Russian citizens were detained over the past few weeks for flying drones or taking photographs of sensitive sites in Norway.

A 47-year-old man with dual Russian and British citizenship was jailed Wednesday for two weeks on suspicion of flying drones on Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, NTB reported. He is accused of breaching sanctions which came into force after Russia went to war against Ukraine, Moe said, declining to elaborate.

Under Norwegian law, it is prohibited for aircraft operated by Russian companies or citizens “to land on, take off from or fly over Norwegian territory.” Norway is not a member of the European Union but mirrors its moves.

“It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “We do not want anyone to fly this type of craft over important installations in Norway.”

Airport operator Avinor told NRK on Tuesday that 50 possible drone observations have been reported at Norway’s civilian airports so far this year, 27 of them since July.

NTB said 17 and 14 drone sightings were reported in 2021 and 2020, respectively, while the number was 44 in 2019.

The Norwegian Police Security Service, known by the acronym PST, plans to work closely with local police agencies which have conducted investigations, Moe said.

Other European nations heightened security around key energy, internet and power infrastructure following last month’s underwater explosions that ruptured two natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea that were built to deliver Russian gas to Germany.

The damaged Nord Stream pipelines off Sweden and Denmark discharged huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the air.

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