Norway mourns 91 victims as homegrown suspect quizzed

2011-07-23 10:24

Police said they were questioning a Christian fundamentalist today over twin attacks on a youth camp and the government headquarters that killed 91 people in Norway’s deadliest post-war tragedy.

As harrowing testimony emerged from the holiday island where scores of youngsters were mown down by a gunman dressed as a policeman, Norway’s premier said the country would emerge stronger from the “cruel act of violence”.

“Never since the Second World War has our country been hit by a crime on this scale,” Jens Stoltenberg told journalists in a press conference as police searched for more bodies on the idyllic Utoeya island.

While there was no official confirmation of the suspect’s identity, he was widely named by the local media as Anders Behring Breivik.

According to information the suspect posted online, he is an “ethnic” Norwegian and a “Christian fundamentalist”, police spokesperson Roger Andersen said, adding his political opinions leaned “to the right”.

Police commissioner Sveinung Sponheim confirmed that the suspect was a 32-year-old Norwegian who had posted anti-Muslim rhetoric online.

Norwegian media reported that the blond-haired Breivik described himself on his Facebook page as “conservative”, “Christian”, and interested in hunting and computer games like World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2.

The attacks yesterday afternoon were western Europe’s deadliest since the 2004 Madrid bombings.

While there had been initial fears they might have been an act of revenge over Norway’s participation in the campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya, the focus shifted when it emerged the suspect was a native Norwegian.

Speaking alongside the prime minister, Justice Minister Knut Storberget said there was no reason to raise the threat level.

Police lifted an advisory that had urged residents to stay home while a spokesperson for the Oslo municipality said there was “no reason to ask people not to go into the city or not to go about their normal business”.

Seven of the victims were killed in a massive explosion which ripped through government buildings, including Stoltenberg’s office and the finance ministry, in downtown Oslo.

But it is thought that the bomber then caught a ferry to nearby Utoeya wearing a police uniform.

According to witness testimony, he claimed to be investigating the bomb attack and began opening fire with an automatic weapon after beckoning youngsters towards him.

Witnesses described scenes of panic and horror among the 560 people attending the youth camp. Some who tried to swim to safety were even shot in the water, according to witnesses.

Among the wounded was Adrian Pracon, who was shot in the left shoulder as the gunman opened fire.

Speaking to Australia’s ABC network from hospital, he said the scene on the island was like a “Nazi movie”.

“He was shooting people at close range and starting to shoot at us. He stood first 10 metres from me and shooting at people in the water,” he said.

“He had an M16, it did look like a machine gun. When I saw him from the side yelling that he was about to kill us, he looked like he was taken from a Nazi movie or something.

“He started shooting at these people, so I laid down and acted as if I was dead. He stood maybe two metres away from me. I could hear him breathing. I could feel the heat of the machine gun.

“He tried everyone, he kicked them to see if they were alive, or he just shot them.”

Stine Haheim, a Labour party lawmaker who was on the island at the time of the shooting, said that she was among a group of people who had fled to the shores of the island as they heard the gunfire.

“Then the policeman who was not a policeman pulled out a machine-gun and started shooting a lot of people,” she said.

“We are devastated by the tragic outcome. We have to hope that those who are missing will turn out okay,” she told the BBC.

Norwegian police said they feared there could also be explosives on the island and officers were combing the island. Their updated death toll on the island released this morning stood at 84.

Stoltenberg had been due to give a speech today to the 560 people attending the youth camp on the island, organised by the ruling Labour Party.

“Utoeya is a place I have visited every summer since 1974. I have known joy, commitment and safety there. Now the place has been through brutal violence and a paradise for youth has been turned into hell in a few hours,” he said.

The prime minister said Norway, one of Europe’s most peaceful countries, would not be intimidated.

“The message to whoever attacked us, the message from all of Norway is that you will not destroy us, you will not destroy our democracy and our ideals for a better world,” he said.

There was widespread international condemnation with US President Barack Obama saying the attacks were “a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring”.

The Norwegian capital is a well-known symbol of international peace efforts and home to the Nobel Peace Prize.

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