The Soldiers of Odin pose on a Drammen bridge on Saturday night. Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix
Volunteer street patrols calling themselves the Soldiers of Odin and claiming to protect locals from asylum seekers walked the streets of several Norwegian towns this weekend, as the group founded in Finland branches out across northern Europe.
Dozens of men, some wearing black bomber jackets emblazoned with the group's Viking helmet logo, gathered on Saturday night in the streets of Stavanger, Drammen and Kristiansand, the group said on Monday.
"We want the streets to be safe, we want to get rid of the delinquency we see in Norway today which the police are unable to address," the group's Norwegian spokesman Ronny Alte told AFP.
"Drugs are being sold, girls are being touched, there are assaults and violence."
The group is based on the Finnish Soldiers of Odin, which has links to neo-Nazis and was founded last year in response to a record number of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, claiming that the influx has led to a rise in crime.
It now also has branches in Denmark and Sweden.
Alte, who was formerly a member of Islamophobic groupings such as the Norwegian Defence League and German-based Pegida, said the Norwegian branch of Soldiers of Odin "represents the entire political spectrum" and comes to the aid of everyone.
"But a large part of the crime we are focusing on is the result of the illegal immigration in Norway after Europe opened its borders," he said.
Like their Finnish counterparts, Norwegian police said they were "generally sceptical of groups like the Soldiers of Odin."
"The use of names [Odin is a god of war in Norse mythology, ed.] and symbols, and the fact that some of the members of the group have links to criminal circles, cement this scepticism," Atle Roll-Matthiesen, a high-ranking police official, told AFP.
"It's not acceptable that groups act or give the impression of being some kind of citizen self-defence group... Only the police are authorised to carry out policing duties," he added.
In Drammen, police on Saturday checked the identities of the patrol members and verified that they were unarmed.
In Kristiansand, the members were only authorised to hand out pastries and coffee.
The Norwegian intelligence agency PST's annual report published on February 9 said the "threat from far-right circles was growing in Norway" as a result of the migrant crisis.
The Nordic country of 5.2 million saw a record 31,000 migrant arrivals last year.