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22 July 2011

Norwegian nightmare: Oslo bomb then shooting


Image: An injured woman is helped by a man at the scene of a powerful explosion that rocked central Oslo July 22, 2011.

Oslo - A bomb killed seven people in Norway's capital Oslo on Friday and a gunman opened fire at a youth camp on an island, police said.

Police said they believed the bombing and the shooting were connected, but could not immediately confirm Norwegian media reports that several people had been killed at the youth camp.

A Reuters witness said several army soldiers had taken up position around the centre of the city. With police advising people to evacuate central Oslo, apparently in fear of more attacks, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told Norwegian TV2 television in a phone call that the situation was “very serious”. He said that police had told him not to say where he was speaking from.

The bomb ripped through the main government building in the normally sleepy Norwegian capital in mid-afternoon, killing seven people, police said, and injuring many more.

“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.

Shortly afterwards, a gunman opened fire at the island of Utoeya north-west of Oslo, where Stoltenberg's Labour party youth section's annual gathering was taking place.

Daily newspaper VG said on its website a man dressed as a policeman had been shooting wildly and had hit many people.

Norwegian commercial broadcaster TV2 said several people had been killed in the shooting spree.

There was no clear claim of responsibility and while the attacks appeared to bear the hallmarks of an Islamist militant assault, analysts said it was too early to draw any conclusions.

NATO member Norway has been the target of threats before over its involvement in conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya.

The attack came just over a year after three men were arrested on suspicion of having links to al Qaeda and planning to attack targets in Norway. It came also less than three months after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid on his hideout in Pakistan.

A Reuters witness said he had seen soldiers taking up positions around central Oslo, while police said they feared there might be explosives at the youth camp.

Violence or the threat of it has already come to the other Nordic states: a botched bomb attack took place in the Swedish capital Stockholm last December and the bomber was killed.

Denmark has received repeated threats after a newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in late 2005, angering Muslims worldwide.

The Oslo blast tore at the facade of the 17-storey central government building, blowing out most of the windows and scattering shards of metal and other debris for hundreds of metres (yards).

The building of a publisher which recently put out a translation of a Danish book on the Mohammad cartoon controversy was also affected, but was apparently not the target.

The blast scattered debris across the streets and shook the entire city centre at around 3:30 p.m. (1330 GMT). A Reuters witness saw eight people injured, one covered in a sheet and apparently dead.

MOST VIOLENT “SINCE WORLD WAR TWO”

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.

“This is a terror attack. It is the most violent event to strike Norway since World War Two,” said Geir Bekkevold, an opposition parliamentarian for the Christian Peoples Party.

The district attacked is the very heart of power in Norway, with several other key administration buildings nearby.

Nearby ministries were also hit by the blast, including the oil ministry, which was on fire. Nevertheless, security is not tight given the lack of violence in the past.

The failed December attack in Stockholm was by a Muslim man who grew up in Sweden but said he had been angered by Sweden's involvement in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan and the Prophet Mohammad cartoons.

That attack was followed weeks later by the arrest in Denmark of five men for allegedly planning to attack the newspaper which first ran the Mohammad cartoons.

In July 2010, Norwegian police arrested three men for an alleged plot to organise at least one attack on Norwegian targets and said they were linked to individuals investigated in the United States and Britain. [ID:nLDE66B22G]

John Drake, senior risk consultant at London-based consultancy AKE, said: “It 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 a reprisal for Sweden's contribution to the efforts in Afghanistan.”

Political violence is virtually unknown in a country known for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize and mediating in conflicts, including in the Middle East and Sri Lanka.

- Reuters