Saturday, July 23, 2011

Militants kill at least 17 in Norway attacks

Twin shooting and bomb attacks left 17 dead on Friday as a Norwegian gunman disguised as a policeman opened fire at a youth camp and a bomb blast tore through government buildings in Oslo.
(Story continued below)
Many were also reported wounded from the explosion in central Oslo and the shooting at a summer school meeting of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's ruling Labour Party on an island outside the capital.

In a late night press conference, Stoltenberg said it was too early to speculate to say who was behind the attacks but insisted they would not intimidate one of Europe's most peaceful countries.

"People have lived through a nightmare that very few of us can imagine," he said. "The coming days will show who is responsible and what kind of punishment they will get."

"Norway is a tight-knit small country and when this kind of catastrophe hits us this strengthens our country and that is something that will help us through this difficult time.

"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."

Speaking alongside Stoltenberg, Justice Minister Knut Storberget confirmed that a suspect who had been detained was a Norwegian national.

"A person has been arrested... I have been informed that he is a Norwegian," Storberget told reporters.

"I do not think it is right from my position to go into details about him... (It is) way, way too early to say anything about responsibility just yet."

Police confirmed at least 10 deaths on the island but added that they fear the number will rise.

Police had earlier confirmed that seven people were killed in the bomb attack in Oslo.

The United States and European leaders immediately denounced the attacks and vowed solidarity with NATO member Norway -- an enthusiastic participant in international military missions that has forces in Afghanistan and is participating in Western air strikes in Libya.

The shootings took place at a youth camp on Utoeya, an island just outside Oslo where Stoltenberg had been due to give a speech on Saturday to the 560 people attending.

Witnesses described scenes of panic and horror after the gunman, who police said was disguised as a police officer but never worked for the police force, opened fire on the youth gathering.

"I saw a lot of people running and screaming, I ran to the nearest building and hid under a bed," Emilie Bersaas, 19, told Britain's Sky News.

"It was very terrifying. At one point the shooting was very very close to the building, it actually hit the building, the people in the next room screamed."

"It is kind of unreal, especially in Norway," Bersaas said. "This is something we hear about happening in the US."

Norwegian police said they feared there could also be explosives on the island.

Reports of the island shooting emerged shortly after a blast tore through the government quarter in central Oslo, home to the prime minister's office, other ministries and some of the country's leading media.

Police said a "bomb" had been behind the "powerful explosion".

"We can confirm that we have seven dead and two have been seriously injured" in the bomb attack, a police spokesman told reporters at a briefing in Oslo. Several dozen were also wounded, police said.

"We have no main theory, we don't even have a working theory," a police official said separately. "We already have enough to do to get an understanding of the situation."

Police did say however that they believed the two attacks were connected.

"There are good reasons to believe that there is a link between the events," police commissioner Sveinung Sponheim told reporters in Oslo.

Oslo's mayor Fabian Stang said the capital was struggling to come to terms with the idea that it had joined the list of cities targeted by bombers.

"Today we think about those people living in New York and London who have experienced this kind of thing," he told Sky.

"I do not think it is possible for us to understand what has happened today but hopefully we will be able to go on and that tomorrow Oslo will be a peaceful city again."

Images on Norwegian television showed the prime minister's office and other buildings heavily damaged, sidewalks covered in broken glass and smoke rising from the area.

A police spokesman said a vehicle had been seen driving at high speed in the area just before the explosion but did not confirm that the blast had been caused by a car bomb.

Police had sealed off the area and urged residents to stay in their homes.

The EU condemned the attacks as "acts of cowardice" and the NATO chief denounced them as "heinous".

US President Barack Obama called the attacks "a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring."

Norway's intelligence police agency (PST) said in February that Islamic extremism was a major threat to the country, describing it as "our main priority and our main concern".

Norway, which counts some 500 troops in Afghanistan, has never suffered an attack at home by Islamic extremists.

However, police last year arrested three Muslim men based in Norway suspected of planning an attack.

Norwegian F-16 fighter jets are also participating in air strikes in Libya, though the country has said it will withdraw its forces from the Libya operations on August 1.

The Norwegian capital is also a well-known symbol of international peace efforts, home to the Nobel Peace Prize and the birthplace of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords.

EARLIER REPORT
OSLO: Militants staged twin bomb and shooting attacks in Norway Friday, leaving at least 11 dead as a blast tore through government buildings and a gunman opened fire at a youth meeting of the ruling party.
Many were also reported wounded from the bomb blast in central Oslo and the shooting at a summer school meeting of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's ruling Labour Party outside the capital.

Authorities were reeling, with police saying they had no clue who or what was behind the attack, but media reported that the gunman behind the shooting had been arrested.

The United States and Europe immediately denounced the attacks and vowed solidarity with NATO member Norway -- an enthusiastic participant in international military missions that has forces in Afghanistan and is participating in Western air strikes in Libya.

Police said a "bomb" was behind a "powerful explosion" that tore through the government quarter in central Oslo, home to the prime minister's office, the finance ministry and some of the country's leading media.

Stoltenberg was safe and there were no reports of other senior government officials being killed or wounded. The government was to hold a crisis meeting later Friday.

"We can confirm that we have seven dead and two have been seriously injured" in the bomb attack, a police spokesman told reporters at a briefing in Oslo. Several dozen were also wounded, police said.

"We have no main theory, we don't even have a working theory," a police official said separately. "We already have enough to do to get an understanding of the situation."

Police did say however, that they believed the two attacks were connected.

"There are good reasons to believe that there is a link between the events," police commissioner Sveinung Sponheim told reporters in Oslo.

Media reports said a man disguised as a police officer opened fire on the youth meeting at a summer camp on Utoeya, an island just outside Oslo, where Stoltenberg had been scheduled to give a speech on Saturday to the 560 people attending.

Norwegian police said that there could be explosives on the island.

"From what I saw, at least four people have been shot and killed," Adrian Pracon, a participant at the event told the Varden newspaper.

NRK public television reported that police had arrested the gunman, but police had neither confirmed the arrest nor released any details on casualties.

Oslo's mayor Fabian Stang said the capital was struggling to come to terms with the idea that it had joined the list of cities targeted by bombers.

"Today we think about those people living in New York and London who have experienced this kind of thing," he told Britain's Sky News.

"I do not think it is possible for us to understand what has happened today but hopefully we will be able to go on and that tomorrow Oslo will be a peaceful city again."

Images on Norwegian television showed the prime minister's office and other buildings heavily damaged, sidewalks covered in broken glass and smoke rising from the area.

A police spokesman said a vehicle had been seen driving at high speed in the area just before the explosion but did confirm that the blast had been caused by a car bomb.

Police had sealed off the area, which also houses the country's biggest tabloid newspaper Verdens Gang (VG). They had also urged residents to stay in their homes.

Stoltenberg gave a telephone interview to show that he was unharmed after the deadly blast, which he called a "serious situation".

"Even if one is well prepared, it is always rather dramatic when something like this happens," he said in the interview with a Norwegian TV station.

The EU condemned the attacks as "acts of cowardice" and the NATO chief denounced the attacks as "heinous".

US President Barack Obama called the attacks "a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring."

Witnesses said the damage around government headquarters was extensive while some said that police had spoken of two bombs.

"I see that some windows of the VG building and the government headquarters have been broken. Some people covered with blood are lying in the street," a journalist with public radio NRK said from the scene.

"There is glass everywhere. It is total chaos. The windows of all the surrounding buildings have been blown out," said NRK journalist Ingunn Andersen.

Norway's intelligence police agency (PST) said in February that Islamic extremism was a major threat to the country, describing Islamic extremism as "our main priority and our main concern".

Norway, which counts some 500 troops in Afghanistan, has never suffered an attack at home by Islamic extremists.

However, police last year arrested three Muslim men based in Norway suspected of planning an attack.

Norwegian prosecutors earlier this month also filed a terrorism charge against Mullah Krekar, founder of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who was accused of threatening a politician with death over his potential deportation from the country.

Krekar had warned that "Norway will pay a heavy price" if he were deported.

Norwegian F-16 fighter jets are also participating in air strikes in Libya, though the country has said it will withdraw its forces from the Libya operations on August 1.

The Norwegian capital is also a well-known symbol of international peace efforts, home to the Nobel Peace Prize and the birthplace of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords.

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