Saturday, 23 July 2011

Twin terror attacks shock Norway

Eyewitness Ingunn Anderson says she saw many injured people

Norway has been hit by twin attacks - a massive bomb blast in the capital and a shooting attack on young people at a governing Labour Party youth camp.

At least seven people were killed in the bombing, which inflicted huge damage on government buildings in Oslo.

A few hours later a gunman opened fire at the camp on an island outside Oslo, killing at least 10.

The suspected gunman was arrested at the camp and the government have confirmed that he is Norwegian.

Police have said the 32-year-old suspect was also linked with the bomb attack.

Witnesses described the gunman as tall, blonde and say he was dressed as a policeman.

'Shaken by evil'

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose Oslo offices were among those damaged by the bomb, described the attacks as "bloody and cowardly".

Analysis

The prime minister and justice minister have declined to speculate on a motive behind the attack but police are saying that they believe the car bomb and the shooting are linked and that they have a suspect in custody from Utoeya.

The ministers are confirming he is Norwegian. During the day, after an initial focus on an al-Qaeda link, the possibility of domestic extremism increasingly came into focus.

The choice of targets - government buildings and a political youth rally - suggested a possible political agenda rather than the mass casualty approach typically employed by al-Qaeda.

Constructing a large car bomb requires a degree of sophistication and the crucial factor for the police will be establishing how many people are behind this attack, whether any are still at large and to whom they might be connected.

He said Norway had been "shaken by evil" but that Norwegian democracy and ideals would not be destroyed.

"We are a small nation and a proud nation. No-one will bomb us to silence, no-one will shoot us to silence," he said in a televised address.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

There are fears the number of dead from both attacks could rise, says the BBC's Richard Galpin, north of Oslo.

Several people from the camp are still missing and rescue teams have been scouring the waters around the island after dead bodies were reportedly seen in the water.

Eyewitnesses say that after the gunman started shooting, people jumped into the water to try to escape the hail of bullets.

There are concerns more victims may still be inside buildings hit by the initial explosion.

Emergency services have had difficulty accessing these buildings amid concerns about further possible explosions as well as fears the blast may have left buildings unstable.

'Posed as policeman'

The gunman is reported to have been armed with a handgun, an automatic weapon and a shotgun.

"He travelled on the ferry boat from the mainland over to that little inland island posing as a police officer, saying he was there to do research in connection with the bomb blasts," NRK journalist Ole Torp told the BBC.

Smoke in downtown Oslo

"He asked people to gather round and then he started shooting, so these young people fled into the bushes and woods and some even swam off the island to get to safety."

One 15-year-old eyewitness described how she saw what she thought was a police officer open fire.

"He first shot people on the island. Afterward he started shooting people in the water," youth camp delegate Elise told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Stoltenberg had been due to visit the camp on Saturday. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who visited the camp on Thursday, praised those who were attending.

"The country has no finer youth than young people who go for a summer camp doing politics, doing discussions, doing training, doing football, and then they experience this absolutely horrendous act of violence."

'No justification'

In Oslo, government officials urged people to stay at home and avoid central areas of the city.

Rubble and glass from shattered windows littered the streets and smoke from the fires drifting across the city could be seen in television footage from the devastated government quarter.

Norway's prime minister Jens Stoltenberg: "No one will bomb us into silence"

Earlier Egil Vrekke, Assistant Chief Constable of Oslo police, told the BBC the rescue operation in Oslo was ongoing, with large areas still cordoned off as bomb experts established whether there were other devices in the area.

Friday was a public holiday in Norway so although there were hundreds of people in the government offices hit by the blast, they were not as busy as they might usually have been, said State Secretary Kristian Amundsen.

"We have to focus on the rescue operation - there are still people in the building, there are still people in the hospital," he told the BBC.

Journalist Hanne Taalesen on island attack: "There are reports that youths hid in bushes"

The oil ministry was reportedly among the government buildings hit, while the headquarters of tabloid newspaper VG were also said to have been damaged in the blast, which was heard across the capital.

"It's complete chaos here. The windows are blown out in all the buildings close by," NRK journalist Ingunn Andersen told AP.

The US has condemned the "despicable acts of violence" in Oslo, while the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said the "acts of cowardice" had no justification.

Our correspondent says that the attacks have been a huge shock for people: Norway has never experienced anything like this in the past and the violence of the past day has left people totally stunned.

Map

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Blast witness: 'The explosion was immense'

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 23, 2011 -- Updated 0005 GMT (0805 HKT)
Click to play
Oslo blast: 'It was just chaos'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "The smiling Norwegian people aren't smiling any more," says one witness
  • People say they could hear the blast from far away
  • Debris covered the streets
  • "It was almost in slow motion," one person says

Oslo, Norway (CNN) -- The scene after a bomb exploded in the center of Oslo on Friday reminded New Yorker Ian Dutton of what he witnessed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

The scale of the Oslo explosion was smaller than that of 9/11, but the stunned feeling and confusion in the aftermath were eerily similar.

"Seeing the emergency response gives me that same feeling in my spine of being in someone's crosshairs," Dutton said.

The roads near the government buildings that were the target of the attack were free of most people except emergency responders, whose reflective yellow jackets contrasted with their surroundings.

iReport captures chaos in Oslo
Analyst: Oslo attacks coordinated
Report: Shooting at Oslo youth camp

Debris covered the streets -- pieces of metal, poles and glass littered the area.

Photos from the state-run broadcaster NRK showed emergency personnel putting people on stretchers and wheeling them through the debris from the blast.

Video showed one government building with its windows mostly blasted out along one side.

The blast could be felt for miles, witnesses said.

"It rocked me out of bed," Dutton said.

"The building that sustained the explosion had a helipad on its roof and now has beams hanging from it," Dutton said. Most of the windows were blown out, and curtains were dangling. "I can see the warped metal of the building," he said.

There was a line of yellow ambulances by the scene, and a police cordon kept onlookers back.

"I didn't know Oslo had so many ambulances," he said.

"Everything is like a movie," said Paul Ronneberg, who works three blocks from the explosion. "You can feel some kind of mystic energy surrounding the town. It's very quiet. Most of the city center is closed of the police. The smiling Norwegian people aren't smiling anymore."

Gallery: Giant blast rocks Oslo, Norway

Emily Anderson, a 22-year-old waitress from Fargo, North Dakota, was in Norway on her second day of a family vacation.

"I was in a store with a younger sister and a younger cousin and we were in there shopping and heard a humongous bang and felt an explosion," she said. "We were on a lower level of a store and when we heard it, we gathered at the front doorway of the store. You could see tons of smoke pouring out of this building. It was extremely loud."

Others on the street appeared to be in shock, she said. "I thought we were going to die. It was scary. It felt like 9/11."

"It sounded like a thunderclap, but louder than a thunderclap could be," said Anderson's 33-year-old cousin, Dawn Lubka, a nurse from Minneapolis who was in her room at the Comfort Hotel Borsparken in Oslo when the blast occurred. She said she initially assumed it was a construction accident, as there are lots of new buildings and a new opera center going up nearby.

But when she looked online, she found out what had really happened. "I asked the concierge, politically, why would they have bombings here? The Norwegians couldn't believe that it could be a bombing in their city. He said, honestly, 'It's because we're friends with you. Because (Norway) is helping with troops in Afghanistan.'"

Morten Vaage said he was about 800 meters from the explosion when it occurred after he had attended a parade to welcome his brother and other soldiers back from Afghanistan.

At the parade, the Norwegian defense minister, Grete Faremo, had addressed the soldiers "and emphasized how lucky we are to live in this country of Norway, where we are safe and free," he said.

The explosion soon after contrasted sharply with her words. "It did not feel like Norway," he said. "I heard the explosion and the whole central (train) station shook. ... People were shocked; some were crying, some were bleeding."

Ulrik Fredrik Thyve was finishing a day's work when he heard the "huge, enormous bang."

"The explosion was immense; my office felt like it contracted, expanded, and windows were blown all over the building," he said. "Dust, smoke, people bleeding everywhere. I walked out and towards ground zero to see if there was anything to do."

Police evacuated him and his co-workers from the area.

Nick Soubiea, an American-Swedish tourist in Oslo, said he was less than 100 yards from the blast, which he described as deafening.

"It was almost in slow motion, like a big wave that almost knocked us off our chairs," he told CNN. "It was extremely frightening."

He said the streets were crowded with people trying to get away from the center of the city. "There are people running down the streets, people crying, everyone's on their cell phones calling home," he said.

CNN's Mariano Castillo, Nicole Saidi, Carly Costello, Jesicca Ellis, Joe Sterling and Moni Basu contributed to this report.