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Man Charged in Deadliest Norway Attacks Since World War II

Oslo on July 23, 2011
People light candles and lay flowers in central Oslo on July 23, 2011 to pay tribute to the victims of twin attacks at the government headquarters building in Oslo and on a youth camp, Norway's deadliest post-war tragedy. Jan Johannessen/AFP/Getty Images

Twin attacks in Norway, the deadliest since World War II, left at least 92 people dead after a gunman fatally shot 85 at a political youth camp near Oslo and a bomb in the capital’s government quarter killed seven.

A 32-year-old Norwegian man, a former member of the anti-immigrant Progress Party, was arrested in the attacks, police said in Oslo today. Authorities declined to confirm local media reports identifying the suspect as Anders Behring Breivik, upon the request of his defense lawyer, who has not been named.

“He has been charged in both” incidents, Deputy Oslo Police Chief Roger Andresen told reporters. The two counts of “dangerous crimes to society” mean the perpetrator could receive 21 years in prison, Norway’s toughest punishment, Andresen said.

The Oslo blast yesterday shattered windows at the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and other government buildings. About 600 people were on the island of Utoeya, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Oslo, attending the annual camp organized by the youth wing of Stoltenberg’s Labor Party when the shootings took place, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said. The suspect, who was wearing a fake police uniform when arrested on the island, was not a police officer, authorities said.

“I heard a shot and someone came and said, ‘there’s a man with a weapon, just run,’ so I ran through the forest,” said 17-year-old Ahmed Rasooli, who was on the island. “When I came back I saw a policeman and I thought he could help us, so we went toward him. There was a girl in front of me and he shot her. She screamed, and then she died.”

Dozens Injured

Along with those who were killed, dozens more were hurt in the shooting and nine others were seriously injured in the bombing, Gahr Stoere said. Police roped off streets surrounding the bomb site, while the army blocked access to the area from onlookers.

The rampage on the island lasted 90 minutes, Acting Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim told a press briefing in Oslo today. Breivik, who was using a pistol and an automatic machinegun, surrendered without any resistance when he was finally approached by a special police force, Sponheim said. He said he didn’t know if the suspect had acted alone. The death toll may rise, he said, as four to five people are still missing from the gathering at Utoeya.

The attacks were the deadliest in Europe since about 350 people were massacred at a school in Beslan, Russia, in 2004.

6 Tons Fertilizer

The suspect owned a farm in the small eastern town of Rena, which is listed as Breivik Geofarm on a Facebook page bearing his name and image. He bought 6 tons of fertilizer in May, said Jan Kollsgaard, a director at agricultural supply company Felleskjoepet.

Breivik became a member of the Progress Party, Norway’s second biggest, in 1999 and paid his membership fees until 2004, party spokesman Mazyar Keshvari said in an e-mail today. He was also a member of the party’s youth movement from 1997 to 2007, acting as deputy chairman for one of the local Oslo chapters.

On a Twitter account bearing his name, Breivik made only one posting, on July 17, paraphrasing English economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”

He’s a Christian fundamentalist with no previous record of criminal offences, Andresen, the deputy police chief, said. Interrogations could last several days, police said today.

Crisis Centers

Two policemen stood outside the 4-story brick apartment building listed as Breivik’s Oslo address in a quiet residential area in the capital’s west. Hemen Noaman, a 27-year-old accounting consultant living in the building, said Breivik’s mother resided in the apartment and that her son would often visit her. Sponheim said police had interrogated Breivik’s mother and that she not been aware of her son’s plans.

Municipalities and cities throughout Norway were setting up crisis centers to aid relatives of the victims. From Tromsoe in the far north of the rugged Nordic country with 4.9 million inhabitants to Oslo in the south, flags were flown at half-mast in remembrance of the victims. The annual youth camp, which began July 19, was set to conclude tomorrow.

“Not since World War II has our country experienced a greater tragedy,” Stoltenberg said. “For me, Utoeya was the paradise island of my youth that was transformed into hell.”

Police, who would not speculate about a motive, “see a connection between the attack in the Oslo center and the attack on the island because both are at political sites,” Anders Frydenberg, an Oslo police spokesman, said by telephone. Police do not know whether the suspect was acting alone, Sponheim said.

Progress Party

The Progress Party, which posted its best result in Norway’s last parliamentary elections since it was formed as an anti-tax movement in 1973, is preparing to contest local elections on Sept. 12. A poll conducted by Norfakta earlier this month showed the opposition Conservative and Progress parties combined would obtain a majority in parliament, beating the ruling center-left coalition government.

“The parties on the right have had strong loyalty recently while parties on the left have had less,” Frank Aarebrot, a University of Bergen political science professor, said today. After these attacks, “Labor supporters will rally to the flag. Progress Party supporters could become a little less certain.”

Like other Nordic countries, Norway has a high rate of gun ownership, mostly semi-automatic and bolt-action rifles and shotguns, due to the popularity of hunting. As of January 1, 2010, 439,000 Norwegians were recognized by the Norwegian Register of Hunters, or about one in every 10 citizens.

Scared Children

Neighboring Sweden had a brush with what police treated as a possible terrorist attack in December when a suicide bomber injured two people in central Stockholm.

“The attacks that were carried out in Oslo and at Utoeya were an attack on the Norwegian society we value so highly,” Norway’s King Harald said in an address to the nation today. “Across the entire country people have lost loved ones. There are many young people and children who are scared today. We need to take especially good care of them.”

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen sent a statement conveying his “deepest sympathy and solidarity” with the Norwegian people. U.S. President Barack Obama said the attacks showed that “no country large or small” is immune to such violence. U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” by the attacks, which NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen classified as a “heinous act.”

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