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07.22.11

Norway's Terror Shock

Citizens are reeling after a bombing shook the capital's center and a gunman opened fire on a camp, killing 76. Åsne Seierstad talks to residents and the foreign minister.

UPDATE: Seventy-six people died in Norway's twin attacks—eight when a blast ripped through Oslo’s government headquarters, and 68 at a mass shooting at a nearby youth camp. Dozens more were hospitalized. Norway's prime minister said, "Not since the Second World War has the country experienced such an atrocity.”

As rain poured down from a gray sky Friday afternoon, the heart of Oslo was struck by a powerful explosion outside the prime minister’s office, and on an island outside the city, a man dressed as a police officer began shooting at teenagers. The twin attacks left a total of 87 dead.

“First came the blast, then our glass roof exploded,” said newspaper columnist Anders Giaver, whose office is just across from a plaza ringed by the prime minister’s office, the Ministry of Oil and Energy, the Ministry of Trade, and the Ministry of Education. “We ran down the stairs and smelled smoke. We knew immediately that this was a terror attack.”

Outside, Giaver met shocked and wounded citizens. “Unbelievable” was the word many used to describe the tragedy. A terror attack is something that happens elsewhere, not in Norway.

“Norway lost its innocence today,” a grim-faced Ola Borten Moe, the minister of oil and energy, told The Daily Beast. Several of his staff were wounded in the blast, which killed at least seven and wounded 15. “This will change Norway forever. This is something we have read about from other countries. But the most important thing now is to keep our tempers in check. We don’t yet know who or why.”

The feeling of shock intensified Friday as a gunman disguised as a policeman opened fire on teenagers who were attending a political summer camp run by the ruling Labor Party at Utøya, an island on one of the lakes surrounding Oslo. The teenagers fled, with some running away and others diving into the water in an effort to escape. At least nine were killed, and the 32-year-old shooter, who police said was linked to the Oslo bombing, was arrested. An unexploded bomb was later found on the island.

The blond Norwegian suspect had told guards that he was on the island to carry out a “routine check” on security after the terror attack in Oslo. He was ferried by boat to the island by the camp’s own staffers. Just after reaching the crowd of teenagers, he began shooting.

“July 22 will go down in history as the day when political violence brought death to our streets and to our youth,” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told The Daily Beast in a phone interview. He spent Thursday with the Labor Party youth at Utøya, having what he described as “lively discussions about the Middle East, soccer, music—all the ingredients of a political summer camp.” On Saturday the prime minister, who was not in his office at the time of the Oslo bombing, was scheduled to attend.

“Tonight we are mourning the loss of innocent citizens who have been targeted by terror,” said Gahr Støre, who, between security meetings Friday, took calls from survivors and parents of victims of the Utøya camp attack. “As we do that, we also make every effort to bring those responsible to justice. Norway must live up to its standard of the rule of law. But for the moment, we have no theories about who is behind it. Having theories means you limit the scope of the investigation.”

Right before midnight, the Oslo police raided the flat of Anders Behring Breivik in the upper class district of Oslo, where the 32-year old had been living with his mother. The man arrested in connection with the shootings at Uttøya and the explosions in Oslo is a devote rightwing extremist, known to have posted several attacks on Islam, immigration and the creation of a multicultural society in Norway on the web.

In 2009 Breivik registered the company Geofram, to deal with vegetables. Through this company he got access to large quantities of fertilizers, which is suspected have been used in the explosives.

Breivik was registered with a Glock pistol, a rifle and a hunting gun in the weapon register. In his car several other weapons were found, including machine pistols, after the arrest. Six days ago he posted his one and only message on Twitter, a version of a quote by John Stuart Mill: "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests."

For the moment we have no theories about who is behind it, said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Having theories means you limit the scope of the investigation.

Norway is a member of NATO and has troops stationed in the Faryab province of Afghanistan. It has taken part in the West’s bombing raids on Tripoli and in 2006 was mentioned by Ayman al-Zawahiri as a possible target. Norwegian newspapers’ reprinting of Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad angered Muslim groups, and protests against Norway were staged in several countries.

Oslo is one of the most open capitals in the world. Before Friday, a person could walk straight into the reception area of the building where the prime minister had his office on the top floor. Now that reception area lies in ruins. Oslo is a city where the police patrol is unarmed, where people can take a stroll in the king’s garden around the clock. The city has been struck in the heart—and it may be forever changed.