Norwegian authorities detain drone-carrying Russian headed for home

Norway said Friday it had detained a Russian caught crossing the border in the Scandinavian nation's far north as he returned home with two drones and a cache of photos and videos.

Pictured is Norway's border with Russia.
Norwegian authorities have detained a Russian citizen at the border .File photo: A general view of the Norwegian border crossing station at Storskog. Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP

The move comes as Norway is on high alert following several reports of mysterious drone sightings close to offshore oil and gas drilling platforms run by major energy producer Norway.

Last month’s Nord Stream gas pipeline blasts in the Baltic Sea are widely assumed to be the result of sabotage.

The man, named as 50-year-old Vitaly Rustanov, was arrested this week at the border post of Storskog, the only transit point between Norway and Russia. A judge at a court in Vadso ordered Rustanov placed in custody for two weeks in line with a police request.

“There are… reasons to believe the accused will try to escape judicial proceedings unless he is placed in provisional custody,” the judge ruled. Rustanov was carrying two Russian passports and an Israeli one when arrested, he noted.

According to the judge’s ruling, Rustanov, had admitted to flying drones “across the whole country” but denied any wrong-doing.

In Norway since August, he was carrying a partially encrypted four-terabyte stash of photos and videos when arrested.

“He has explained he was in Norway as a tourist visiting somebody,” policen official Anja Indbjor told Verdens Gang daily.

“He has explained he photographed and flew a drone for private reasons and indicated he likes taking photos and is a photographer,” added Indbjor.

Norway, along with several other Western countries, has forbidden Russians and Russian entities from overflying its territory following the February invasion of Ukraine. Breaking that ban is punishable by a three-year prison term. Rustanov told police he was unaware of the ban.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine having led to a huge fall-off of Moscow’s energy deliveries, Norway has overtaken Russia as the main supplier of natural gas to Western Europe.

Following the Nord Stream explosions and drone sightings, Norway increased security around its energy installations.

Norwegian media reported that another drone had been seen late Thursday overflying a gas treatment facility at Karsto in the southwest of the country.

Police urged the public to pass on any information as they sought further clues as to who was responsible.

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Norway moves to ban motorcycle club linked to violent crime

Norwegian police have moved to ban the Satudarah Motorcycle Club as the authorities believe the organisation has a predisposition to serious crime.

Norway moves to ban motorcycle club linked to violent crime

Internationally, the club is often connected to drug dealing and organised crime. Authorities in Norway believe the perpetrators of a recent stabbing in Lillestrøm and a shooting in Oslo could be connected to the Satudarah MC (SMC).

The police now want to take Satudarah to court and ban them completely.

“We believe that the main purpose of Satudarah in Norway is to engage in crime,” Anders Rasch-Olsen, the head of the Special Operations Section (SO) in the Oslo Police District, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

In 2021, a new law was introduced that allows courts to ban criminal gangs. The Satudarah motorcycle club is the first organisation that the authorities want to use the law against.

“We now want to test this law for the first time. We believe it is the right tool for us to prevent expansion, further participation and recruitment into certain gangs,” Rasch-Olsen said.

Taking the case to court

State prosecutor Ingelin Hauge wants to take the case to court.

“We believe it’s a criminal gang,” she told NRK.

However, for it to be a criminal offence to participate in Satudarah activities, the association must first be banned. 

Lawyer Usama Ahmad has been asked to represent the club. Ahmad is the lawyer of a 38-year-old man who the police believe is the leader of the Satudarah MC in Oslo.

“He disagrees with the claims and believes this association is not illegal. He, therefore, wants to present counterevidence in court against a possible ban,” Ahmad said.

“We believe that the information the prosecutor’s office relies on is not corrected and up-to-date. He believes the association’s purpose is not linked to crime,” Ahmad added.

If the court decides to implement a ban, it will become illegal for the MC club to carry out its activities and recruit new members.

Fighting organised crime

The Special Operations Section in the Oslo police works on fighting organised crime in the capital. Together with other departments, they have led the investigation of the MC club in Norway.

In collaboration with several police districts, they have mapped members and supporters in the Oslo area and the crime they believe they have committed.

“Drug crime, violent crime, extortion and kidnapping. Things that create fear in society,” Rasch-Olsen noted.

According to media reports, the Satudarah organisation in Oslo consists of a core of 12 people.

In the Oslo police’s report “Trends in crime 2018-2021”, the police stated that the MC club was more characterised by crime, violence and the use of firearms than by motorcycle riding.

“We can safely say that the majority in the Oslo chapter has not shown any particular interest in motorcycles,” Rasch-Olsen said.