On the morning of October 11th 1993, William Nygaard left his house in a posh district of Oslo to go to work in his publishing house downtown. When he came out, he noticed that his front tire on the left was flat. He did not feel like changing tire himself, and decided to call a service company. He went round the car to the right front door to get the necessary papers. Suddenly he felt a terrible blow to his body. He remembers swaying and thinking to himself: «There must be something wrong with the car.» Then came another blow. «I’ve got to get away from the car,» he said to himself, and managed to walk a few meters to a nearby slope and rolled down to the bottom. «Those were terrible moments», Nygaard recalls.
Nygaard was a public person. He was running the family business, the publishing company Aschehoug, one of the country’s big three. Four years earlier Nygaard had published Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
Khomeini’s fatwa came while the book was still in translation. Muslims in Norway held violent protests. People were not afraid to openly admit that they supported the fatwa. Some even ventured on TV that they would gladly kill Rushdie themselves. The public was shocked.
Nygaard would not ble intimidated. The book was quietly distributed. Immediately there were fire bombings of bookshops.
The public pronouncement of an religious death order for an author outraged many in Norway. A committee was established who worked on Rushdie’s behalf. In 1992 when European politicians would not be seen with Rushdie, he came to Norway and was received by the culture minister, Åse Kleveland. A deliberate move. Norway wanted to signal support for free speech. Noone seriously considered Khomeini’s fatwa a threat four years later – not in Norway, not against a publisher.
It was Nygaard’s neighbour who saved his life. She observed him falling and came to ask what was the matter. He told her he had suffered an electrical jolt from his car. He was in a poor conditon. She called an ambulance.
At the hospital, Ullevål sykehus in Oslo, Nygaard remembers asking the personell to go easy on his new jacket. They wanted to cut it.
When he woke up a doctor came to his bed and told him: «You’ve been shot». Nygaard was stunned.
The police lost valuable time. It would be the media who would raise the question that the police seemed to resist the most: That Nygaard’s asassination was a direct result of Teheran’s order to kill anybody involved with the Rushdie-affair. Time and again the police declared that they did not follow any special lead, but kept all possibilities open.
This insistence, understandable at first, turned into a mantra, and seemed to be the real policy behind the investigation. In spring 1995 the case was closed.
A new documentary by investigative journalist Odd Isungset from the channel TV2 takes issue with the clumsiness and asks: was the investigation deliberatley botched?
The documentary, called «The Bloodstains in the Dagaliroad»
The police found spent bullets on the crime scene, fired from a Dan Wesson Magnum 44. There were 96 guns of that type in Norway. One belonged to a 24 year old pakistani who came to Norway at the age of two. He was on permanent disability pension. This person had come to the attention of the police in a peculiar manner. He was a close friend of a parliamentarian from the People’s Progress Party, Norway’s leading opposition party, with a strong liberalist streak and a vocal opponent of Norway’s immigration policy . Jan Simonsen was the party’s proponent of a strong law and order policy. As such he frequently featured in the media.
At the same time Simonsen had friends among immigrants in Oslo. His 24 year old pakistani friend was especially close.
Simonsen was away, in New York, at the opening of the United Nations when the shooting took place. Still he contacted the police on his friend’s behalf to vouch for his innocence.
When police turned up at his friends door to question him and inspect his guns – he had nine, the 24 year old was in Pakistan, a country he had not visited since he came to Norway. Still his brother let them take the Dan Wesson.
The bullets used in the attempt to kill Nygaard were of a special kind, made for American police. Only 2.000 bullets had been sold in Norway. The 24 year old had bougt some.
The Dan Wesson gun is of a special kind. Its barrel is interchangeable. The 24 year-old had nine barrels. Two were missing.
The police now wanted to speak to him, but learned that he had left Norway the day after the asassination. They tired of waiting and flew to Pakistan to talk to him. The conversation did not yield much. Still the police considered him a suspect.
The police followed two leads that came to be knows as the Pakistani-track and the Iranian-track. In the middle was the strange behaviour of the parliamentarian Jan Simonsen.
After three months in Pakistan, the suspect came home. He would only speak to a judge, and not be questioned by the police. This request was granted. The indictement was then dropped.
The 24 year-old left for Pakistan, and his friend Simonsen came to visit him.
Back in Norway Simonsen bought a flat from this family, and then let the family live in the flat for free. The family was in the restaurant business, and Simonsen had used his influence to work for a more speedier immigrationprocess for foreigners who came to work in the restaurant business.
The police still got information that kept the 24 year-old an interesting person: when he left Norway after the asassination he flew to Frankfurt. From there he boarded a flight to Teheran, but was not let into the country. He returned to Norway and flew straight to Pakistan.
Chief of investigation, Leif A. Lier, commented on TV: «One is free to travel.»
The killer had obviously meant to kill Nygaard from behind while he went down on his knee to inspect or change the flat tire. Nygaard took three hits, and one was very serious. By all standards he should have died. «I was lucky», he says. The bullets used expand within the target. Nygaard was wearing an oilskin-coat from Marlboro Classics, with a padded inside. Ballistic experts think the bullet was wrapped in the oliskin, and thus did not expand, but trajected through the body.
One witness had seen the killer’s face. She was a 17 year old assistant in the house nearby. She was so frightened by what she saw and later learned that she packed her bag and left the same day.
But later she suffered qualms about what she knew and turned to the police. From her description a phantom drawing was made, that showed a person of Middle Eastern origin.
A landlord in Oslo reported that he had a 27 year old tenant from Iran, who suited the drawing. This person had seemed stressed on October 12.th, and had left the country. Police established that he was an Iranian asylumseeker. He had a perfect alibi: according to flight lists he had been on a plane from Copenhagen to Oslo on the 11th of October.
Police could not crack the case. But the Rushdie-affair kept the case alive. On the tenth anniversary of the fatwa, a new documentary about Nygaard’s asassination, attracted attention. New sources turned up. One of them was Kjell Vidar Lauritsen. He knew both the 24 year old and Mr. Simonsen. On a trip together to London, the 24-year old had left the group. He said he would seek out Rushdie and kill him. He was clearly aware of the fame that awaited him and the bounty on Rushdie’s head.
Police also learned that the 24 year-old had managed to enter Iran on one of his visits to Pakistan. Police now had new evidence against him. After careful preparation, he was taken into custody on 24th of March 1998. Expectations were high. But the next morning his cell was empty. During the night there had come an order that he was to be set free.
The investigators were furious. They had not been consulted, not even informed. Not even the magistrate in charge had been informed. One of the investigators, Magne Eilertsen, says: -After that the atmosphere got bad.
The witness Lauritsen learned to his astonishment that his deposition had been given to the 24 year-old’s lawyer. He felt betrayed and was aghast.
Police investigator Eilertsen says they felt equally betrayed, and the questions still linger and gnaw his mind. What happened? Who gave the order?
Journalist Odd Isungset got a letter from someone who obviously wrote from personal experience. The source said something irregular had taken place. Someone from the outside had intervened. The source felt this was not right, in a matter that touched on national security.
Meanwhile new information about the Iranian turned up. He was officially a refugee, but had been working for the Iranian embassy in Oslo. He had relatives in the Revolutionary Guard. He knew how to use a knife.
The 27 year-old has left Norway and now lives in another country. Reporter Isungset has written several letters to the police, asking for a new investigation. He has over the years conducted hundreds of interviews in many countries, among them Iran. He has garnered new information he wants to share with the police. He is rebuffed or is met with silence.
The police still have ten years to solve the case. Attempted murder is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.