Norway attacks: Police search farm for clues after shooting, explosion leave 94 dead
By Michael Birnbaum,
Police were searching a remote farm that was the most recent home of the man suspected of twin attacks on Norway that killed at least 94 people, Norwegian police said Saturday.
They charged a 32-year-old Norwegian man with planting explosives in central Oslo on Friday and a shooting spree on an isolated island hours later, in what added up to the largest attack on Norway since World War II. The death toll rose dramatically overnight and appeared likely to continue to rise, as authorities searched for victims on the island northwest of Oslo.
“What we know is that he is right wing and he is Christian fundamentalist,” deputy police chief Roger Andresen said Saturday morning at a televised news conference. “We have not been able to link him up to an anti-Islamic group.” He said that the suspect had not been arrested before, and that police were unsure if he had acted alone.
“We find him responsible for both of the attacks,” Andresen said. “At the moment we have no other people to arrest.”
Norwegian media identified the suspect as Anders Behring Breivik and posted pictures of the blond and blue-eyed Norwegian. A security official speaking on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to release the name publicly said that the name was correct.
Police said that at least 87 people were killed on the island and seven others died in the earlier bombing in Oslo. Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim said Saturday that the Oslo blast was caused by a car bomb.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that police were investigating many angles in the attacks, including the possibility of international support for the suspect.
“We are in touch with other country’s security services,” Stoltenberg said at an impromptu news conference outside a makeshift hospital near Utoya Island, where he had visited with the injured and their families. “It is very important to see if there are international connections here.”
Stoltenberg said that the broader implications of the attacks were difficult to gauge. “It’s too early to say how this will change Norwegian society,” he said. “But I hope we will be able to maintain some of the most important things . . . Norway is a society where we have a close relationship between politicians and the people,” and, he said, he hoped that would not change.
In Oslo, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told reporters that police were still investigating deaths at the island and trying to identify bodies. He said that some people may have drowned trying to swim away from the island to escape the shooting. Police said Saturday that it took them 45 minutes to reach the scene.
He said that police were still trying to piece together the suspect’s motives.
“The politically motivated violence that Norway has seen in the modern age has come from the extreme rightist side,” Stoere said. “This is a phenomenon that we have addressed very seriously.”
A Twitter account with Breivik’s name and photo has a single post, from July 17: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests,” slightly misquoting British philosopher John Stuart Mill. A Facebook account linked to Breivik cites his favorite books as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, and George Orwell’s 1984, among others. Another interest is hunting. It was not possible to confirm if the Twitter and Facebook accounts and posts belonged to the suspect in the shooting.
The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang, citing a spokeswoman for agricultural material supplier Felleskjopet, reported that the suspect bought six tons of artificial fertilizer — which is highly explosive — some 10 weeks before the attack. Police were alerted to the purchase only after it emerged the man was suspected of the deadly attacks, the Associated Press reported, quoting the newspaper.
The Norwegian VG newspaper reported that police had blocked off a farm in Asta, 100 miles north of Oslo, and were searching it, and Norwegian media speculated that the farm may have been the source of explosives used in the attack on Oslo, which blew out almost every window in the 17-story building that houses the prime minister’s office and severely damaged several other nearby buildings in the government district of Oslo.
The prime minister told reporters that the attacks were “like a nightmare.”
The youth conference was “my youth paradise,” Stoltenberg said. “And yesterday it was turned into hell.”
Oslo police said that the shooting spree on the island lasted approximately 30 to 45 minutes before police arrived on the scene, according to Norwegian media, but witnesses said that it was more like an hour. A growing chorus of critics is questioning what took so long for police to take control of the situation.
The blast struck around 3:30 p.m. local time near the government building in Oslo, blowing out windows and setting off a billowing fire at the nearby oil ministry. The prime minister was not in his office at the time.
Two hours later, a man dressed in a police uniform opened fire on Utoya Island, 25 miles northwest of the capital, where the ruling Labor Party was holding an annual conference for young people, police said.
Stoltenberg was rushed to a secret location in the aftermath of the blast but spoke to reporters late Friday.
“I have a message to whoever attacked us. It’s a message from all of Norway,” he said. “You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy.”
But many residents of Oslo said the attacks would probably have a deep impact. For years, the most fortified building in town has been the U.S. Embassy — the subject of eye-rolling from those who thought the security measures were unnecessary.
“This is one of those events that will change everything,” Christopher Wright, 35, of Oslo said by telephone. He was at a bakery a thousand feet from the government buildings when the explosion happened.
Several analysts said a coordinated attack of such a caliber would have required sophistication and preparation.
Chatter on online jihadist forums praising the attacks started almost immediately afterward, terrorism analysts said, but claims of responsibility were soon retracted.
It was not immediately clear what kind of explosives were used in the bombing or where they had been placed, but a charred, damaged vehicle stood on its side near the blast site. Huge clouds of smoke streamed out of the oil ministry building for much of the afternoon, and television stations broadcast images of crowds of office workers running through the streets, with documents and broken glass littering the ground.
Norwegian television broadcast images of people swimming away from the island and of bodies lying on the shore. The small island is a third of a mile from shore, with no bridge to connect it to the mainland.
The Norwegian news agency NTB said former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland had been present at the conference Friday and that Stoltenberg had been scheduled to speak there Saturday.
Norway saw an increased level of far-right extremism in 2010, a trend that is expected to continue this year, according to a Norwegian Police Security Service Annual Threat Assessment. The report also said that “there are indications of contact” between far-right Norwegian extremists and organized criminal groups, which could increase their potential for violence.
There have been threats against Norway in the past, but analysts have long seen it as at less risk than other Scandinavian countries. The most recent attack in the region was in Sweden in December, when explosions hit Stockholm; in one of the blasts, a suspected bomber killed himself and injured two other people in a central area of the city. The suspect had made recordings condemning Sweden’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Norway has also contributed to Afghanistan, and it has taken a major role in the NATO-led effort to protect civilians in Libya, sending several F-16 jets that had been carrying out 10 percent of the strikes on the country since March, according to the Norwegian air force. The aircraft are scheduled to return home at the end of the month.
This month, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi threatened Europe with suicide bombings as revenge for the NATO campaign.
Norway had also filed charges last week against an Iraqi-born cleric, Mullah Krekar, a founder of the Kurdish militant group Ansar al-Islam, for allegedly threatening Norwegian officials with death if he was deported.
The U.S. ambassador to Norway, Barry White, said in a telephone interview that the United States has offered to assist the Norwegian government.
“It’s a tragedy,” he said. “One of the things this demonstrates is there’s no place that is safe from a potential incident of this nature. Norway is considered a fairly safe place, and it is, but this demonstrates that things can happen anywhere.”
In Washington, President Obama expressed his condolences to Norway and offered U.S. support as Norwegian authorities investigate the incidents, which he described as terrorist attacks.
Birnbaum reported from Berlin. Staff writer Greg Miller in Washington and special correspondent Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.