Shaken Norway sees echo of Oklahoma City

Posted July 24, 2011, at 9:03 a.m.

OSLO — With at least 92 dead and a suspect in custody, Norwegians trying to make sense of the bombing and shooting attacks here turned repeatedly Saturday to the one example that seemed to fit: the Oklahoma City bombing.

Here, as there, a quick assumption that Muslims were at fault proved to be erroneous. Norwegians now know that a 32-year-old Christian, who railed against multiculturalism, is the principal and perhaps only suspect in the killings that occurred Friday in Oslo and at an island nearby. His name is Anders Behring Breivik; police say he has admitted to the shootings. A Norwegian newspaper reported that he had recently bought a large quantity of fertilizer, which can be used to make bombs – as the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, showed in 1995.

According to Web postings he apparently wrote, Breivik has lived on the margins of Norway’s extreme right wing, a movement that has been in decline for at least a decade. The writings denounce politicians in general for betraying the nation – but offer no hint of violence.

European security officials say they were aware of increased Internet chatter from individuals claiming they belonged to a group called the new Knights Templar, that has been allegedly linked to the suspect in Norway’s deadly attacks. According to the Associated Press, two European security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation, said they were still investigating claims that Breivik and other far-right individuals attended a London meeting of the group in 2002.

The English Defense League, which opposes what it calls the spread of Islam, released a statement Sunday distancing itself from Breivik.

The country of 4.5 million was plunged into grief Saturday, especially because more than 80 of the victims were teenagers attending a Labor Party camp on the island of Utoya. Oslo was hushed, even though thousands came out on the streets, whether out of curiosity or in solidarity. As soft showers fell, the loudest sound was of workmen sweeping up broken glass.

“This is still our city,” said Knut Aafloey, a leader of the Norwegian Artists and Songwriters Association. “People want to be close to where it happened.”

Soldiers from the King’s Guard, in body armor and carrying automatic weapons, guarded the closed-off streets at the bomb site. That was a shocking sight to residents of a city that thinks of itself as home to the Nobel Peace Prize.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg visited with survivors of the island massacre and with families of the bereaved at a hotel on the mainland. “It’s too early to say how this will change Norwegian society,” he said. He hopes, Stoltenberg said, that Norway can maintain its open and democratic society. “Those who try to scare us shall not win.”

The royal family also paid a visit. In the evening, Queen Sonja, along with her son, Crown Prince Haakon, and his family, arrived at the Domkirke, Oslo’s Lutheran cathedral. They were met by the dean while several hundred people silently watched on the sidewalk. The royal party then entered the sweltering 17th-century cathedral, where they stayed for several minutes of silent prayer. Again, when they left, the crowds were silent.

The preparation that must have gone into the bombing and the shootings was terrible to think about, said Inger Margrethe Eriksen, 71, as she stepped out of the Domkirke. “The buildings can be repaired, but the children . . . ,” her voice trailed off.

In television interviews, survivors of the island assault described a scene of chaos and panic. The gunman, dressed as a police officer, scoured the island. Carrying two guns, he shot everyone he could in a span of 90 minutes. Police said they think some of the victims drowned while trying to swim away. Eighty-five are confirmed dead. Four are missing. They also said it is possible that two men took part in the attack there.

Witnesses have said that the shooting lasted an hour before police arrived at the scene, although police said they were there 40 minutes after the gunfire started.

After Breivik’s capture, police brought him ashore in a small boat.

“He looked unaffected, quite cold, like it was a normal day,” said Anders Nohre Berg, 34, who lives nearby. “I think a lot of people are happy it’s just one crazy guy, not a terrorist group or al-Qaida or something like that.”

Sigrid Skeie Tjensvoll, who had come out to see the bomb damage in Oslo, agreed. “If Islamic people do something bad, you think, ‘Oh, it’s Muslims,’ ” she said. “But if a white Protestant does something bad, you just think he’s mad. That’s something we need to think about.”

The bomb blast blew out the windows at the Vaart Land newspaper office. Brita Skogly Kraglund said the whole staff ran out into the street. She was unhurt but badly shaken. She left behind her glasses, phone and keys. It was 3:30 p.m., and deadline was approaching. They couldn’t go back into the building, so a core group of writers and editors went to the home of the newspaper’s IT chief, who had plenty of computers scattered across his house. They got the paper out.

“I thought immediately about Oklahoma City,” said her husband of 32 years, Ivar Dyb Kraglund, a senior researcher at Norway’s Resistance Museum, as first Muslims and then a lone right-winger were blamed. “But then this massacre” on the island followed the bombing, he said, making the incident even more horrifying.

“It’s worse than anything the Germans did in this country” during World War II, he said, though hundreds of Norwegian Jews were deported and later killed elsewhere.

A Facebook profile that appeared to be Breivik’s was deleted early Saturday. On it, Breivik described himself as Christian and conservative and listed an interest in hunting and in “founding and developing organizations.” His literary affinities, he said, include John Stuart Mill, George Orwell and Franz Kafka. He liked to watch “Dexter” – an American television show about a serial killer.

“There’s a fine line between genius and crazy,” said Roy Erik Brynjulfsen, 25, who was at work providing technical support for a satellite television company just a few blocks from the blast site and who came out Saturday to see what he could see. “Obviously, this was a crazy man. He did it on his own, thinking he was a genius.”

 

 

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