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23 July 2011

Norway’s deadliest tragedy

Death toll rises to 91 as police discover more victims of Norwegian gunman.

By George Eaton

The horrific attacks in Norway were initially thought to have claimed around 20 lives. But it’s now clear that that figure was a dramatic underestimate. The latest reports put the death toll at 91, with seven killed in the car bomb attack in Oslo and 84 killed on the island of Utoya, where a man dressed as a police officer opened fire on a youth meeting of the country’s Labour Party.

Many rushed to the assumption that the attacks were the work of an Islamist terrorist group. The New York Times reported that a group called Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami (the Helpers of the Global Jihad) had claimed responsibility, allegedly describing the attack as “a response to Norwegian forces’ presence in Afghanistan and to unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad”. However, the paper later reported American officials as saying that “the group was previously unknown and might not even exist”.

It now appears that the atrocities were committed by a lone right-wing extremist, leading Norwegian officials to conclude that the attack is “probably more Norway’s Oklahoma City than it is Norway’s World Trade Center.” Anders Behring Breivik, the 32-year-old Norwegian arrested in connection with both attacks, described himself on his Facebook page (now unavailable) as a conservative and a Christian. A Twitter account apparently belonging to him, featured this post from last Sunday: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.” The decision to target the centre of Oslo, which houses the offices of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, as well as a Labour meeting, suggests that the motive was political.

Significantly, Stoltenberg, who was due to address the youth meeting today, has responded by calling for “more democracy, more openness to show that we will not be stopped by this kind of violence”. No calls for revenge, no overblown rhetoric, just a quiet determination that this proud, egalitarian nation will go on as before.

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