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Friday, July 22, 2011

Norway reels after bomb blast, youth camp attack

OSLO, Norway — Twin terror attacks rocked Norway on Friday when a bomb wrecked government buildings in the capital, including the prime minister's office, and a gunman dressed as a police officer opened fire at an island youth camp.

Police said the two attacks were linked.
At least seven people were killed and others injured in the blast in the center of Oslo, NBC News reported. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was not in his building at the time of the explosion, which happened around 3:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT), Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported.

Separately, a man in a police uniform opened fire at a Labor Party youth camp on an island near Oslo, Norwegian media said. Investigators told local media they suspect a link between the shootings and the blast. Eyewitnesses told Norwegian broadcaster NRK perhaps 20 or more people had been killed on the island of Utoya. Police confirmed at least nine deaths on the island. Police said they have arrested one person after the shooting.

“The situation’s gone from bad to worse,” Runar Kvernen, spokesman for the National Police Directorate under the Ministry of Justice and Police, told The New York Times. He added that most of the youngsters at the camp were 15 and 16 years old.

Police confirm nine dead on island

Stoltenberg had been scheduled to attend the event on the island, but was not there, police said. The island is in a lake about 25 miles northwest of Oslo.

"Kids have started to swim in a panic, and Utoya is far from the mainland. Others are hiding," Bjorn Jarle Roberg-Larsen, a Labor Party member who spoke with teens on the island, told The New York Times. "Those I spoke with don’t want to talk more. They’re scared to death.”

NRK reporter Astrid Randen quoted witnesses as saying the man — described as "tall, blond and Nordic-looking" and speaking Norwegian — wore a police uniform and summoned youth at the political gathering to gather around him before he "just executed them."

The island is about one-third of a mile from shore at its closest point, and has no bridge to the mainland.

Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim said the shooter had also been spotted in Oslo just before the blast.

In Oslo, police confirmed at least seven dead in the blast. At least 10 injured people were admitted to Oslo University Hospital, a hospital spokesman told Reuters. The toll could be higher, with the police chief saying there have been “a lot” of casualties and reports of people trapped in the building.

Oslo police said the explosion was caused by a bomb, the NTB news agency said.

Why would terrorists want to attack Norway?

The blast blew out most windows on the 17-story building housing Stoltenberg's office, as well as nearby ministries including the oil ministry, which was on fire.

"It exploded — it must have been a bomb. People ran in panic ... I counted at least 10 injured people," said bystander Kjersti Vedun, who was leaving the area of the blast in Oslo.

Heavy debris littered the streets and a tall plume of brown smoke rose over the city center. The tangled wreckage of a car could be seen near the blast site.

The Reuters correspondent said the streets had been fairly quiet in mid-afternoon on a Friday in high summer, when many Oslo residents take vacation or leave for weekend breaks.

Officials were trying to confirm reports of people trapped inside buildings, government minister Hans Kristian Amundsen told BBC.

"We are trying to stay focused, and we are focused, on the rescue operation," he said.

'Lingering smell' like 9/11

Olaf Furniss, a freelance journalist in Oslo, told BBC News that people he had spoken to feared it was a terrorist attack.

The BBC reported residents as saying there was a smell of sulfur in the air and asked Furniss about this.

"I was in New York three weeks after 9/11, there was still a lingering smell [and] I would compare it to that, it's very similar to that," he replied.

Furniss told the BBC that he was in a cafe when the blast went off, but he had not realized how big it was until he went outside.

One witness in Oslo, who spoke to the BBC and was identified only as Ella, said "We are the good guys; stuff like this doesn't happen to us."

Story: Militant attacks in Europe

NATO member Norway has sometimes in the past been threatened by leaders of al-Qaida for its involvement in Afghanistan. It has also taken part the NATO bombing of Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi has threatened to strike back in Europe.

Story: Norway attack: Likely suspected groups

However, political violence is virtually unknown in the country.

"There certainly aren't any domestic Norwegian terrorist groups although there have been some al-Qaida-linked arrests from time to time," David Lea, Western Europe analyst at Control Risks, said. "They are in Afghanistan and were involved in Libya, but it's far too soon to draw any conclusions."

John Drake, a senior risk consultant at London-based consultancy AKE said the attack may not be "too dissimilar to the terrorist attack in Stockholm in December which saw a car bomb and secondary explosion shortly after in the downtown area."

"That attack was later claimed as reprisal for Sweden's contribution to the efforts in Afghanistan," he said.

'People covered with blood'

A journalist with the NRK media organization, Ingunn Andersen, told The Associated Press news agency that the main office of newspaper VG was damaged in the blast.

"I see that some windows of the VG building and the government headquarters have been broken. Some people covered with blood are lying in the street," he told the AP. "It's complete chaos here. The windows are blown out in all the buildings close by."

Tom Erik Sundbye said in a tweet that he was just over 4 miles away and "my office building was shaking."

Lise Sand expressed her shock in a series of messages on her Twitter account.

"I've never seen an explosion like this," Sand wrote. "I can't believe how well we felt it. We're pretty far away."

"Our windows shook, and we could actually feel the shake," she added. "The whole area is evacuated. Sirens everywhere."

Craig Barnes, a British man who was in the center of Oslo when the blast happened, told the U.K.'s Sky News that he had "put my foot down" on the accelerator of the car and got to a friend's house.

"It's absolute chaos, there are many people injured," he told Sky.

"There's debris over at least half a kilometer (546 yards) ... total chaos," Barnes added. "It's absolutely mad."

Bomb Explode

Olso Norway

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