by a Newsnet reporter
At least 17 people have been killed after a large explosion shook the centre of Oslo yesterday afternoon. The blast occurred shortly after 3.00 pm local time and caused widespread panic and chaos in the city. News of the explosion was followed by reports of a gun attack at a political youth camp on the island of Utøya.
The events are being described as the worst atrocity faced by the Scandinavian nation since the Nazi occupation during WW2.
The explosion blew out the windows of a government building in the centre of the Norwegian capital where Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has his offices. Dozens of people have been injured, some seriously. Immediate reports from the the local media indicated there were “several deaths”.
According to eyewitness accounts the nearby building containing the offices of the Norwegian Oil Ministry were said to be on fire. However initial reports that there were two explosions have been discounted. The explosion cause police to evacuate a large area of the city centre.
Speaking to a Norwegian newspaper, a spokesman for Norwegian police said he believed the explosion was caused by a car bomb. Witnesses reported seeing the mangled and burnt out wreckage of a car in front of one of the damaged buildings.
Shortly after the bombing, reports began to come in of a shooting at a youth camp on the island of Utøya in Tyrifjorden lake, a few miles to the north-west of the capital. The youth camp was run by the Norwegian Labour party, the party of the current government headed by Jens Stoltenberg. Mr Stoltenberg had been due to visit the camp later today.
Witnesses report that a gunman dressed as a police officer appeared on the island, claiming he was there “for security reasons”. He then began to open fire. Specialist police then arrived on the island and a man was arrested. Norwegian police sources say that they know the identity of the perpetrator, but the information has not yet been revealed to the public.
Initial reports indicated that at least four people had been killed, but this number rose dramatically as more information became available. It is now feared that as many as 30 may have been shot dead during the attack. Most of the dead are believed to be teenagers.
Many of the young people, some as young as 15, escaped into trees or bushes to hide from the gunman, others swam to the nearby mainland for safety. According to witnesses the man was tall and blond and “looked and spoke Norwegian”. Unconfirmed reports suggested that a second man involved in the incident committed suicide before officers could apprehend him.
On Friday night Norwegian police confirmed that the arrested man was a 32 year old Norwegian citizen. Police have revealed that the same man was seen at both crime scenes and that they had recovered explosive devices from the scene at Utøya.
Speaking to Norwegian reporters earlier on Friday evening, acting Police Chief Sveinung Sponhem assured the press that police have secured Utøya. Speaking just one and a half hours after the incident, Sponheim confirmed that ten people had been killed and that several people injured, some seriously. This number rose as the evening wore on.
It was first thought that an Islamic extremist group was most likely to have been responsible. The New York Times reported that a terror group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami (the Helpers of the Global Jihad) have issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. The statement issued by the group claimed: “We have warned since the Stockholm raid of more operations,” in an apparent reference to a bomb blast in Sweden at the end of last year. The group’s claim has not been confirmed.
Norway is one of the NATO countries which has troops in Afghanistan.
However by Friday night sources in Norway were claiming that the attack was more likely to have been carried out by a Norwegian citizen with a grudge against the government, and that there was no connection to events in the Middle East. Police investigations are continuing.
Scotland’s finance secretary John Swinney sent a message of condolence to Norway.
He said: “I have spoken with David Windmill, the honorary consul general, this afternoon and conveyed on behalf of the Scottish government our deepest sympathy and condolences.”