The Norwegian police said they were questioning a right-wing Christian on Saturday over the twin attacks on a youth camp and the government headquarters that killed 98 people in Norway’s deadliest post-war tragedy.
As harrowing testimonies emerged from the holiday island where scores of youngsters were mown down by a gunman posing 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 of this scale,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told journalists as police searched for more bodies on the idyllic Utoeya Island.
Their latest death toll from the island massacre stood at 91 while seven people died in the Oslo bombing.
While there was no official confirmation of the suspect’s identity, he was widely named by the Norwegian media as Anders Behring Breivik.
According to information, the suspect posted online, he is an “ethnic” Norwegian and a “Christian fundamentalist”, police spokesman 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.
The attacks on Friday 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. Police lifted an advisory telling residents to stay home.
But in a sign of the population’s nervousness, police arrested one young man armed with a knife at a hotel outside Oslo where some of the survivors had gathered and Stoltenberg had just arrived for a visit.
According to the NRK broadcaster, the suspect claimed he was carrying the weapon “because he did not feel safe”.
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.
It is thought that the bomber then caught a ferry to nearby Utoeya wearing a police sweater.
On arrival, 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. Among the wounded was Adrian Pracon, who was shot in the left shoulder.
Speaking to Australia’s ABC network from the hospital, he said the scene on the island was like a “Nazi movie”.
“He was shooting people at close range. He stood 10 metres from me and began shooting at people in the water,” he said.
“When I saw him from the side yelling that he was about to kill us, he looked like he had walked right out of a Nazi movie or something.”
“He would either kick people to see if they were alive, or he just shot at them.”
Norwegian police said they feared there could also be explosives on the island. According to a spokeswoman for a farm inputs cooperative, the suspect bought six tonnes of fertiliser, which can be used to make bombs, in May.
“We sold him six tonnes of fertiliser which is a relatively standard order,” Oddny Estenstad told AFP. Stoltenberg had been due to give a speech on Saturday to the 560 people attending the youth camp on the island, organised by the ruling Labour party.
As he visited some of the survivors, the prime minister spoke of his own anguish at the massacre on an island to which he was a frequent visitor.
“Many of those who have died were friends. I know their parents and it happened at a place where I spent a long time as a young person ... It was a paradise of my youth that has now been turned into hell,” he said.
He said Norway must ensure that the attacks do not undermine the fundamental values of its society.
“We are an open society, a democratic society…we are a society where we have a very close relationship between politicians and the people.”
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”.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II also wrote to King Herald V of Norway to offer sympathy over “the dreadful atrocity”.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, on behalf of the government and people of Pakistan, condemned the horrific terrorist attacks in Norway.
In separate messages to the Norwegian leadership, the king and the prime minister of Norway, President Zardari and the Prime Minister Gilani expressed solidarity with the Norwegians and offered condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the tragic incidents. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2011.
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