OSLO, July 23 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - A gunman dressed in police uniform shot dead at least 84 people at a youth summer camp of Norway’s ruling political party, hours after a bomb killed seven in the government district in the capital Oslo.
Witnesses said the gunman, identified by police as a 32-year-old Norwegian who they believed was also linked to the bombing, moved across the small, wooded Utoeya holiday island on Friday firing at random as young people scattered in fear.
Norwegian television TV2 said the gunman detained by police was tall and blond and had links to right-wing extremism. Police said on Saturday the man had been charged for the bomb blast and the shooting.
“A paradise island has been transformed into a hell,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference on Saturday.
He said he did not want to speculate on the motives of the attacks, but added: “Compared to other countries I wouldn’t say we have a big problem with right-wing extremists in Norway. But we have had some groups, we have followed them before, and our police is aware that there are some right-wing groups.”
Teenagers at the lakeside camp fled screaming in panic, many leaping into the water to save themselves, when the attacker began spraying them with gunfire, witnesses said.
“I just saw people jumping into the water, about 50 people swimming towards the shore. People were crying, shaking, they were terrified,” said Anita Lien, 42, who lives by Tyrifjord lake, a few hundred metres (yards) from Utoeya.
“They were so young, between 14 and 19 years old.”
Survivor Jorgen Benone said: “It was total chaos…I think several lost their lives as they tried to get over to the mainland.
“I saw people being shot. I tried to sit as quietly as possible. I was hiding behind some stones. I saw him once, just 20, 30 metres away from me. I thought ‘I’m terrified for my life’, I thought of all the people I love.
“I saw some boats but I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I didn’t know who I could trust any more.”
“We had all gathered in the main house to talk about what had happened in Oslo. Suddenly we heard shots. First we thought it was nonsense. Then everyone started running,” one survivor, a 16-year-old called Hana, told Norway’s Aftenposten.
“I saw a policeman stand there with earplugs. He said ‘I’d like to gather everyone’. Then he ran in and started shooting at people. We ran down towards the beach and began to swim.”
Hana said the gunman fired at people in the water.
Many sought shelter in buildings as shots echoed across the island that was hosting the annual camp for the youth wing of the Labour Party, the dominant force in politics since World War Two. Others fled into the woods or tried to swim to safety.
Boats searched for survivors into the night, searchlights sweeping the coast. Rescue helicopters flew overhead.
EXPLOSIVES FOUND ON ISLAND
The bomb, which shook Oslo’s centre in mid-afternoon, blew out the windows of the prime minister’s building and damaged the finance and oil ministry buildings.
Police seized the gunman, named by local media as Anders Behring Breivik, and later found undetonated explosives on the island, a pine-clad strip of land about 500 metres long.
Breivik’s Facebook page appeared to have been blocked by late evening. Earlier, it had listed interests including bodybuilding, conservative politics and freemasonry.
Norwegian media said he had set up a Twitter account a few days ago and posted a single message on July 17 saying: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”
About 10 police officers were outside the address registered to his name in a four-story red brick building in west Oslo.
The Norwegian daily Verdens Gang quoted a friend as saying he became a right-wing extremist in his late 20s. It said he expressed strong nationalistic views in online debates and had been a strong opponent of the idea that people of different cultural backgrounds can live alongside each other.
With police advising people to evacuate central Oslo, and some soldiers taking up positions on the streets, the usually sleepy capital was gripped by fear of fresh attacks. Streets were strewn with shattered masonry, glass and twisted steel.
Right-wing militancy has generated sporadic attacks in other countries, including the United States. In 1995, 168 people were killed when Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City.
NATO member Norway has been the target of threats before over its involvement in conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya.
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.
In Oslo, the building of a publisher which recently put out a translation of a Danish book on the cartoon controversy was also affected, but was apparently not the target.
The Oslo district attacked is the very heart of power in Norway. Nevertheless, security is not tight in a country unused to such violence and better known for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize and mediating in conflicts, including the Middle East and Sri Lanka.