Friday, July 22, 2011

At Least 80 Are Dead in Norway Shooting

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy occupying the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, as well as Jan Mayen, the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island (is not subject to the Antarctic Treaty).[note 1] Norway has a total area of 385,252 square kilometres (148,747 sq mi) and a population of about 4.9 million. It is the second least densely populated country in Europe. The majority of the country shares a border to the east with Sweden; its northernmost region is bordered by Finland to the south and Russia to the east; in its south Norway borders the Skagerrak Strait, across which Denmark is situated. The capital city of Norway is Oslo. Norway's extensive coastline, facing the North Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea, is home to its famous fjords.

Anders Behring Breivik from his Facebook Page

From The New York Times: At Least 80 Are Dead in Norway Shooting

OSLO —Norway suffered a pair of devastating attacks on Friday when powerful explosions shook the government center here, killing seven people, and shortly after a gunman stalked youths at an island summer camp for young members of the governing Labor Party, killing at least 80.

The police arrested a Norwegian man in connection with both attacks, the deadliest on Norwegian soil since World War II.

The explosions in Oslo, from one or more bombs, turned the tidy Scandinavian capital into a scene reminiscent of terrorist attacks in Baghdad or Oklahoma City, panicking people and blowing out windows of several government buildings, including one housing the office of the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who was unharmed.

The state television broadcaster, citing the police, said seven people had been killed and at least 15 wounded in the explosions, which they said appeared to be an act of domestic terrorism.

Even as the police locked down a large area of the city after the blasts, a man dressed as a police officer entered the youth camp on the island of Utoya, about 19 miles northwest of Oslo, a Norwegian security official said, and opened fire. “He said it was a routine check in connection with the terror attack in Oslo,” one witness told VG Nett, the Web site of a national newspaper.

Of the at least 80 people killed on the island, some were as young as 16, the police said on national television early Saturday.

Terrified youths jumped into the water to escape. “Kids have started to swim in a panic, and Utoya is far from the mainland,” said Bjorn Jarle Roberg-Larsen, a Labor Party member who spoke by phone with teenagers on the island, which has no bridge to the mainland. “Others are hiding. Those I spoke with don’t want to talk more. They’re scared to death.”

Many could not flee in time.

“He first shot people on the island,” a 15-year-old camper named Elise told The Associated Press. “Afterward he started shooting people in the water.”

After the shooting the police seized a 32-year-old Norwegian man on the island, according to the police and Justice Minister Knut Storberget. He was later identified as Anders Behring Breivik and characterized by officials as a right-wing extremist, citing previous writings including on his Facebook page.

The acting chief of police, Sveinung Sponheim, said Mr. Breivik, who is not known to have any ties to Islamic extremists, had also been seen in Oslo before the explosions. The police and other authorities declined to say what the suspect’s motivations might have been, but many speculated that the target was Mr. Stoltenberg’s liberal government.

“The police have every reason to believe there is a connection between the explosions and what happened at Utoya,” the police said. They said they later recovered explosives on the island.

Mr. Breivik had registered a farm-related business in Rena, in eastern Norway, which the authorities said allowed him to order a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, an ingredient that can be used to make explosives. Authorities were investigating whether the chemical may have been used in the bombing.

A Facebook page matching his name and the photo given out by the police was set up just a few days ago. It listed his religion as Christian, politics as conservative. It said he enjoys hunting, the video games World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2, and books including Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and George Orwell’s “1984.”

As the investigations continued, the police asked people to leave the center of Oslo, stay indoors and limit their cellphone use. They also said they would initiate border checks.

The attacks bewildered a nation better known for its active diplomacy and peacekeeping missions than as a target for extremists.

In Oslo, office workers and civil servants said that at least two blasts, which ripped through the cluster of modern office buildings around the central Einar Gerhardsen plaza, echoed across the city in quick succession around 3:20 p.m. local time. Giant clouds of light-colored smoke rose hundreds of feet as a fire burned in one of the damaged structures, a six-story office building that houses the Oil Ministry.

The force of the explosions blew out nearly every window in the 17-story office building across the street from the Oil Ministry, and the streets on each side were strewn with glass and debris. The police combed through the debris in search of clues.

Mr. Stoltenberg’s office is on the 16th floor in a towering rectangular block whose facade and lower floors were damaged. The Justice Ministry also has its offices in the building.

Norwegian authorities said they believed that a number of tourists were in the central district at the time of the explosion, and that the toll would surely have been higher if not for the fact that many Norwegians were on vacation and many more had left their offices early for the weekend.

“Luckily, it’s very empty,” said Stale Sandberg, who works in a government agency a few blocks down the street from the prime minister’s office.

After the explosions, the city filled with an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. “We heard two loud bangs and then we saw this yellow smoke coming from the government buildings,” said Jeppe Bucher, 18, who works on a ferry boat less than a mile from the bomb site. “There was construction around there, so we thought it was a building being torn down.”

He added, “Of course I’m scared, because Norway is such a neutral country.”

American counterterrorism officials cautioned that Norway’s own homegrown extremists, with unknown grievances, could be responsible for the attacks.

Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

There was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Norway has about 550 soldiers and three medevac helicopters in northern Afghanistan, a Norwegian defense official said. The government has indicated that it will continue to support the operations as long as the alliance needs partners on the ground.

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”

Muslim leaders in Norway swiftly condemned the attacks. “This is our homeland, this is my homeland,” said Mehtab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council of Norway. “I condemn these attacks, and the Islamic Council of Norway condemns these attacks, whoever is behind them.”

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