The Norwegian police on Saturday charged a 32-year-old man, whom they identified as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections, over the bombing of a government center here and a shooting attack on a nearby island that together left at least 91 people dead.
The police said they did not know if the man, identified in the Norwegian press as Anders Behring Breivik, was part of a larger conspiracy. He is being questioned under the country’s terrorism laws and is cooperating with the investigation, they said.
“We are not sure whether he was alone or had help,” a police official, Roger Andresen, said at a televised press conference, adding: “What we know is that he is right-wing and a Christian fundamentalist.” So far Mr. Breivik has not been linked to any anti-jihadist groups, he said.
Johan Fredriksen, chief of staff for the Oslo police, said officials “are not surprised” that the attacks had been the work of an ethnic Norwegian, a blond, blue-eyed man, saying “we think about scenarios.”
Soldiers were arriving in Oslo early Saturday to secure government buildings a day after the attacks, the deadliest on Norwegian soil since World War II.
The explosions in Oslo, from one or more bombs, turned the tidy Scandinavian capital into a scene reminiscent of terrorist attacks in Baghdad or Oklahoma City, panicking people and blowing out the windows of several government buildings, including one housing the office of the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who was unharmed.
Even as the police locked down a large area of the city after the blasts, the suspect, dressed as a police officer, entered the youth camp on the island of Utoya, about 19 miles northwest of Oslo, a Norwegian security official said, and opened fire. “He said it was a routine check in connection with the terror attack in Oslo,” one witness told VG Nett, the Web site of a national newspaper.
The police said the suspect had used “a machine pistol” in the attack, but declined to provide further details.
Of the at least 84 people killed on the island, some were as young as 16, the police said on national television early Saturday. They said the death toll could rise further as they continue to search for bodies in the waters around the island.
Terrified youths jumped into the water to escape. “Kids have started to swim in a panic, and Utoya is far from the mainland,” said Bjorn Jarle Roberg-Larsen, a Labor Party member who spoke by phone with teenagers on the island, which has no bridge to the mainland. “Others are hiding. Those I spoke with don’t want to talk more. They’re scared to death.”
Many could not flee in time.
“He first shot people on the island,” a 15-year-old camper named Elise told The Associated Press. “Afterward he started shooting people in the water.”
Most of the campers were teenagers but there were also adults on the island, who may have been among the victims.
Mr. Breivik was captured “by the emergency forces,” police officials said Saturday, but declined to provide further detail about the circumstances of his capture.
“As for right now, one man has been apprehended, and that’s all I can say,” Mr. Andresen said.The acting police chief, Sveinung Sponheim, said the suspect’s Internet postings “suggest that he has some political traits directed toward the right, and anti-Muslim views, but if that was a motivation for the actual act remains to be seen.”
He said the suspect had also been seen in Oslo before the explosions. The police and other authorities declined to say what the suspect’s motivations might have been, but many speculated that the target was Mr. Stoltenberg’s liberal government.
“The police have every reason to believe there is a connection between the explosions and what happened at Utoya,” the police said. They said they later recovered explosives on the island.
Mr. Breivik had registered a farm-related business in Rena, in eastern Norway, which the authorities said allowed him to order a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, an ingredient that can be used to make explosives. Authorities were investigating whether the chemical may have been used in the bombing.
A Facebook page matching his name and the photo given out by the police was set up just a few days ago. It listed his religion as Christian, politics as conservative. It said he enjoys hunting, the video games World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2, and books including Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and George Orwell’s “1984.”
here was also a Twitter account apparently belonging to Mr. Breivik. It had one item, posted last Sunday: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”
As the investigations continued, the police asked people to leave the center of Oslo, stay indoors and limit their cellphone use. They also said they would initiate border checks.
The attacks bewildered a nation better known for its active diplomacy and peacekeeping missions than as a target for extremists.
In Oslo, office workers and civil servants said that at least two blasts, which ripped through the cluster of modern office buildings around the central Einar Gerhardsen plaza, echoed across the city in quick succession around 3:20 p.m. local time. Giant clouds of light-colored smoke rose hundreds of feet as a fire burned in one of the damaged structures, a six-story office building that houses the Oil Ministry.
The force of the explosions blew out nearly every window in the 17-story office building across the street from the Oil Ministry, and the streets on each side were strewn with glass and debris. The police combed through the debris in search of clues.
Mr. Stoltenberg’s office is on the 16th floor in a towering rectangular block whose facade and lower floors were damaged. The Justice Ministry also has its offices in the building.
Norwegian authorities said they believed that a number of tourists were in the central district at the time of the explosion, and that the toll would surely have been higher if not for the fact that many Norwegians were on vacation and many more had left their offices early for the weekend.
“Luckily, it’s very empty,” said Stale Sandberg, who works in a government agency a few blocks down the street from the prime minister’s office.
After the explosions, the city filled with an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. “We heard two loud bangs and then we saw this yellow smoke coming from the government buildings,” said Jeppe Bucher, 18, who works on a ferry boat less than a mile from the bomb site. “There was construction around there, so we thought it was a building being torn down.”
He added, “Of course I’m scared, because Norway is such a neutral country.”
American counterterrorism officials cautioned that Norway’s own homegrown extremists, with unknown grievances, could be responsible for the attacks.
Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.
There was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.
Norway has about 550 soldiers and three medevac helicopters in northern Afghanistan, a Norwegian defense official said. The government has indicated that it will continue to support the operations as long as the alliance needs partners on the ground.
Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks.
“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”
Muslim leaders in Norway swiftly condemned the attacks. “This is our homeland, this is my homeland,” said Mehtab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council of Norway. “I condemn these attacks, and the Islamic Council of Norway condemns these attacks, whoever is behind them.” [via The Telegraph (UK), The Telegraph (UK) and NY Times]