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24 July 2011

Norway massacre survivors ask 'why us?'


Survivors of a shooting massacre in Norway have been telling extraordinary stories of how they escaped the gunman who opened fire at a youth camp.

At least 85 people died in the Utoya island massacre and seven more were killed in an earlier car bomb explosion which ripped through government buildings in Oslo.

Norwegian national Anders Behring Breivik, 32, has been charged in relation to the attacks.

With the death toll rising, there are still fears for up to five people who are missing.

Key details:

92 dead, may rise to 98
Ring-wing Christian extremist charged
His farm searched for explosives
Possibility of a second gunman

The exhausted teenage survivors were brought to the Sundvolden Hotel, just a few kilometres from Utoya island.

Many left, avoiding journalists waiting behind a tight police cordon.

But others remained, consoling each other and speaking about their ordeal, as rescue workers continued the grim task of recovering bodies of those shot while escaping in the waters to the north-west of Oslo.

One survivor said he saw the man dressed as a policeman lure people out of hiding saying help had arrived, only to shoot them when they revealed themselves.

Another survivor said the gunman also had small homemade bombs he was throwing at people as he went.

It has been confirmed the suspect Behring Breivik purchased six tonnes of fertiliser in May.

Police say there are still explosives inside Oslo city buildings and that some bodies have not been removed because the buildings are too unsafe.

A visibly shaken Miriam Einangs, 17, said the teens who managed to escape or hide on the island had agreed not to tell the worst of what they had seen.

"I have heard stories about people swimming over the lake, people hiding under stones and almost being shot at so there are some terrible stories," she said.

"We have agreed in our groups that we won't talk about the most terrible because it goes only in media. It's too hard. We must remember that we were just 14-18 most of us and this will take a long time to come off."

Another survivor said that six of his friends were on the island when the attack happened. He was going to attend, but decided to do his summer job instead.

"Three of my friends are OK. Three are still missing. Everyone here is doing a good job, but I can't find my friends. I tried to ask the police but they're always busy," he said.

Jahn Petter Berentsen of the Norwegian Red Cross said many of the teenagers were happy to have survived.

"Now most people [left] are those who have lost some of their closest so its difficult, there's lots of emotion and we are just here to be a hand to hold," he said.

The teenagers are receiving counselling from the Red Cross, psychologists and priests, as the already tight community comes closer together.

"Today they are very quiet and very full of sorrow, yesterday they were in shock," said Torunn Aschim, a Norwegian Church vicar from the nearby town of Honefoss who is working in shifts with other vicars to comfort the bereaved.

"There were 700 young people here full of shock and they had experienced bad thing and seen many comrades die."

She says that the children simply do not understand how anyone could commit such violence.

"They ask 'how can a man do that, come out onto an island and shoot at children and young people, how can you manage that?' They find it sick. We never know why people do these things but it's sick and it's bad.

"Now I'm going home, I have a sermon tomorrow. I will pray for them, I don't think I will preach but I will take them with me in prayer."

The Dean of Oslo Cathedral says the community is deeply shocked.

"All of us are emotionally upset about this situation. That one person can do so much damage, that's a problem, I think," he said.

"This church, the Cathedral of Oslo, is open every day and some nights, and a lot of people, also Muslims, are coming into there during the week as well."

ABC/AFP