One Day in Oslo

Sep 5, 2011 - by Mark Pulham

Anders Behring Breivik

Anders Behring Breivik

During a 90-minute rampage at a youth camp not far from Oslo, 32-year-old Anders Breivik – an anti-Islamist – shot to death 69 people.  Earlier that afternoon he set off an ANFO bomb in the capital’s Government Quarter that killed eight people and injured hundreds of others.  When police arrived at the camp, the coward who had laughed as he gunned down defenseless children, dropped his weapons and raised his arms in surrender.

by Mark Pulham

All of the Nobel Prizes except one are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.  The Peace Prize is reserved for Oslo, an honor that has made the capital of Norway a symbol of peace the world over since the award was first handed out in 1901.   

In the October, 2007, edition of the Readers Digest, an article appeared that listed the cities of the world that were the greenest and the most liveable. Coming in at number two, just behind Stockholm, was Oslo.

Surrounded by the blue Oslo fjord and the green hills and forests, the city is compact, easy to get around, with parks, even in the city center, never more than a block or two away.

Renowned for its efforts to promote world peace, Oslo would be the last place anyone would associate with terrorism.  In fact, in the 40 years between 1970 and 2010 there have been only 15 terrorist attacks in the entire country, leaving only 13 people injured, and just one person dead. Compare that figure to that of the United States, where, according to The National Consortium For The Study Of Terrorism And Responses To Terrorism (START) in the same 40 years, there has been almost 2,400 terrorist attacks. Almost 3,000 died in the 9/11 attacks alone.

At a parade to welcome soldiers back from their tour of duty in Afghanistan on Friday, July 22, 2011, Norwegian Defense Minister Grete Faremo addressed the returning troops. She told them how lucky they were to live in a country like Norway, where they are safe and free.

A short time after she spoke those words, that calm and peaceful view of Norway was obliterated.

In the center of Oslo, around 300 meters northeast of the Parliament Building, is the Regjeringskvartalet, or the Government Quarter, a collection of buildings that house the Government of Norway. Among the offices that are housed in the complex are the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.

One building, the Høyblokken or “The Highrise,” houses the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Prime Minister.

It’s a busy area, with hundreds of people working in the buildings, but July is a traditional holiday month in Norway, and most people go away. As a result, the office buildings were not as populated as on a normal working day. Of those who were working, many had already left for the day, but, on this day there were people in the nearby shopping centers, and there were some people on the streets.

As people went about their afternoon, some noticed the white Volkswagen Crafter van that had been parked on the Grubbegata, just across from the main Government building, and the R4 block which housed the Energy Department. Security guards also saw the van being parked, and they would have challenged the driver. However, when they saw that the driver was a policeman, they decided not to.

Oslo bomb area
Oslo bomb area

A couple of minutes later, at around 3:25 p.m., local time, there was a loud explosion as the Crafter, a large 3 – 5 tonne panel van, ripped apart. A bomb inside the van had been detonated. The shockwave from the explosion shattered windows in the surrounding buildings and fragmented glass rained down into the streets. Debris fell to the ground and there was a smell of sulphur in the air.

Eyewitnesses saw people lying in the street covered in blood. People who were shopping at Eger Torget heard the explosion and felt the building shake with the blast. Outside, people ran, getting away from the area as fast as they could, some were crying, some were on their cell phones trying to reach home to assure family members they were okay. It was total chaos. Some described it as similar to a war zone.

In the main building, fires had broken out, and the same had happened in the Energy building. Thick grey smoke rose from the devastated street and could be seen from the high rise buildings in the area. Several kilometres away, people turned toward the sound of the blast as the ground shook beneath their feet.

Within a few minutes, the first of the police cars arrived, followed by emergency services. The area was cleared and a search was conducted in case other explosive devices had been hidden in the area.

Around this time, the Norwegian News Agency, NTB, was told that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was safe and unharmed. In fact, Stoltenberg had not been at his office. He was at his official residence near the Royal Palace. He was preparing a speech that he would be giving the next day at Utøya, an island in the Tyrifjorden Lake where the youth wing of the Labour Party was holding its annual summer camp.

Oslo as smoke rises from blast
Oslo as smoke rises from blast

As the tangled wreckage of the Crafter burned and smoke billowed out from the buildings, the police cordoned off the area surrounding the blast and began to evacuate people from the vicinity. The emergency services began the task of treating the injured, and removing the dead.

People staggered out of the damaged buildings and sat on the pavement, disoriented, and bleeding as medics came and treated their wounds. Blood poured down their faces from cuts caused by the glass that had imploded with the shock wave. Others were trapped in the building, unable to make their way out, for several hours after the explosion, waiting until rescue services could get them safely out. Always, there was the fear that another explosive device would go off, causing more injury and destruction.

One woman, 50-year-old, Line Nersnaes, a Justice Department advisor, emerged from the building she was in, helped by her boss, Knut Fosli. She had been sitting at her desk on the 11th floor when the bomb went off. The glass in the window was laminated, and so it didn’t shatter. But the window frame itself had splintered and flew across the room, part of it hitting Nersnaes it the head.

Line Nersnaes
Line Nersnaes

When she met Fosli in the hallway, she told him that she had a terrible headache. Fosli told her that something was sticking out of her head. The cause of her headache was a foot long spike of wood that had drilled through her chin and up through the top of her head, leaving several inches protruding from the top of her forehead just below the hairline.

Amazingly, the spike had narrowly missed her brain. She was lucky to be alive. She suffered only superficial injuries. Surgeons removed the spike and sutured her wounds with 27 stitches.  After tightly bandaging her head, she was allowed to go home that night. She was back at work within the week.

For Ian Dutton, a New Yorker, it was a replay from 10 years earlier. On September 11, 2001, Dutton rushed from his apartment in the Soho district of New York just after the first plane hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and he rushed to the scene to help. In Oslo, everything must have seemed so similar.

The 41-year-old pilot was just awakening from a nap when the Oslo explosion occurred. The blast shook the building he was in and “knocked the air out of my lungs.” He was on the 28th floor of the Oslo Plaza Hotel, and he rushed to the window. Opening the curtains, he could see the flames and the smoke and the dust below.

He quickly grabbed his iPhone and began taking photographs, then loaded them onto CNN’s iReport website. Shortly after, CNN phoned him and asked for an eyewitness account of what was happening, and Dutton became the network’s live correspondent.

Although the area surrounding the damaged building was cordoned off and evacuated, there was no call for a general evacuation. People were asked to leave the city center as calmly as possible, and the transportation system – buses, the subway, and the tram network – carried on as normal. At least one of the articulated buses was commandeered by emergency services to help ferry out some of the wounded that were able to move.

In addition to the dust and the smoke that was in the air, people also noticed a particular smell, that of sulphur. This led the police to believe that the device used to cause the explosion was a fertilizer bomb, known as an ANFO for its mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. This was later confirmed by the police. It was, in fact, a variation of an ANFO, the more sophisticated ANNM bomb, where the mixture is ammonium nitrate and nitro methane. It was the same as the bomb used at the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.


At Utøya, around 600 young Norwegians were staying for the annual summer camp. Utøya is owned by the Workers Youth League, the youth wing of the Labour Party. This idyllic 26-acre island is mostly forest, with some open areas, and sits around 500 metres offshore in the Tyrifjorden Lake.

The youths at the camp had already had one prestigious visitor. That morning, Gro Harlem Brundtland had been at the island and she had given a speech at the camp. Brundtland, former Director General of the World Health Organization, was also Norway’s first and only female prime minister, having served three terms.

Now the youths were looking forward to the visit the next day by Jens Stoltenberg. But would it take place after what had happened in Oslo? News of the bombing had reached the island when, around 4:30 p.m., people staying at the camp were gathered together in the camp’s main house and were informed of what had taken place.  It must have seemed unbelievable that such a tragedy had occurred so close. Utøya is only 40 kilometres North West of the capital.

Around 5 p.m., just over an hour and a half after the bomb blast, a policeman appeared on the island, arriving from the mainland on the ferry. He had come to the island, he informed them, to make certain that everyone was okay. It was a routine check after the bombing in Oslo. Many of the youths found the presence of a policeman comforting after what had happened in the capital. The policeman asked the youths to gather around him. As some of the youths began to group around, the police officer did the unthinkable. He raised his gun and began shooting them.

What they didn’t know was that the policeman had already killed two on the island. Monica Bosei was known as the “Mother of Utøya” because she had worked there for more than 20 years. On this Friday, she was heading to the island on the ferry, along with what she believed to be a policeman. As the 45-year-old woman talked to him about the bombing in Oslo, her suspicions were aroused, he was being evasive.

When the ferry docked, she went over to Trond Berntsen, a 51-year-old off duty police officer, who was on the island as a security guard. Bosei told him that she thought the policeman was acting suspiciously, and Berntsen decided to have a word with him. Berntsen had his 10-year-old son with him, and first, he made sure that the boy was safe. Then he walked over to the policeman.

But the policeman had realised that they were suspicious. He pulled his gun and shot Bosei dead, then turned the gun of Berntsen, killing him. Berntsen was the stepbrother of Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit.

As the policeman began firing at the youths, the youths who had not been hit scattered, running and screaming in terror. But the policeman calmly shot them as they ran. “You all must die!” he shouted.

They were terrified. Hiding in buildings and behind rocks, hiding in trees and in the water, but nowhere was safe. As the man followed the youths, he laughed and cheered as he shot them. Those who had not witnessed his opening fire, those in the buildings or on the beach, were fooled by the uniform. “It’s safe to come out,” he shouted, “I’m a cop.” They came closer, only to be hit by bullets.

As some of the youths hid, the gunman would spot someone and a shot would ring out. These shots caused some of the girls who were safely hidden to make an involuntary scream. Immediately the killer would turn as the scream alerted him to where to girls were hiding. He would calmly walk over and, once more, shots would ring out. Some played dead, lying as still as they could, hoping the gunman would pass over them. But it was not to be. The killer fired into the bodies, making certain that they were dead.

Many of the youths ran into the cold waters of the lake, willing to take a chance in the strong currents, hoping to swim away to safety. The gunman calmly got the swimmers in his sights and fired.

As they hid behind rocks, the bullets whistling as they passed over their heads, the youths could hear the gunman screaming and laughing. Helplessly, many of them watched in horror as their friends were hit by bullets and fell to the ground or toppled off rocks into the water. They could hear their friends screaming and crying, but were powerless to do anything.

As news got out, parents began to ring their children at the camp. Many of the children had turned off their cell phones, knowing that the ring of the phone would give away their position.

Calls came in to the police and emergency services, but were immediately dismissed. The lines, the callers were told, had to be kept clear for calls concerning the events in Oslo. However, the local police district in Buskerud was contacted, and they immediately informed the police in Oslo. Buskerud police asked Oslo for support and the Contingency Platoon, Beredskapstroppen, was sent from Oslo to Utøya. Beredskapstroppen is the main public force counter terrorism unit, similar to the FBI Hostage Rescue Team in the United States.

Meanwhile, the first of the local police cars arrived at Tyrifjorden, but there was a problem. There was no suitable boat to take them across to the island, so they had to wait. Twenty minutes later, the Contingency Platoon arrived, and the situation was the same for them. They were also forced to wait, helplessly, for a boat. Finally, when a boat was provided, it proved to be too small for the personnel and equipment. As it set out for the island, it began to sink. Hurriedly, the boat turned around and got back to the dock. The Contingency Platoon was transferred over to two private boats.

They arrived on the island in two groups of five; one went toward the north end of the island. The other, realizing the gunman was on the other end of the island, headed in that direction. They shouted “armed police,” and the gunman’s attention turned away from the youths he was targeting and toward them. The gunman, seeing them approach, dropped his weapon to the ground and raised his hands into the air.

After almost 90 minutes, it was over. Around the island, 69 dead bodies lay on the ground or floated in the water, among them the youngest victim, Sharidyn Svebakk-Bøhn, who just six days before, had turned 14. Eight others had died in the bomb blast in Oslo.

Surprisingly, the gunman was tall and blond, a Norwegian. His name is Anders Behring Breivik

Breivik was born on February 13, 1979, in Oslo. His mother, Wenche Behring, was a nurse, and his father, Jens David Breivik, worked as a diplomat for the Royal Norwegian Embassy, first in London, and then in Paris.

The first year of Breivik’s life was spent in London, but there were problems with his parents’ marriage, and they divorced when he was just 1 year old. His father fought for custody, but lost. His mother moved back to Oslo, and he lived with her and his half sister. His father remarried, to another diplomat, and Breivik regularly visited him and his new wife in France, until the early 1990’s, when that marriage also failed. His mother had also remarried, and Breivik’s stepfather was a Norwegian Army officer.

Both of his parents supported the policies of the Norwegian Labour Party, and Breivik was critical of this. He was also critical of his mother for being a moderate feminist. He once wrote, “I do not approve of the super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing as it completely lacked discipline and has contributed to feminising me to a certain degree.”

Breivik was an intelligent student at school, and kindly; one former student recalling that Breivik took care of those who were bullied by others. But as he reached adolescence, he became more rebellious. He had a gang of friends, and during the evenings, they would spend their time walking the streets of Oslo, carrying cans of paint and spraying graffiti on the walls of buildings.

According to his own claim, he was in a “war” with the Oslo public transport company, Oslo Sporveier, and caused around € 700,000 worth of property damage, which included destroying 20 high-tech ticket systems.

In 1995, he was caught spraying graffiti, and his father, angry with his son, stopped having any contact with him. There has not been any contact between them since then.

At a mandatory conscription assessment, Breivik was found to be “unfit for service,” and so was unable to join the military. At the age of 19, Breivik lost two million kroner in the stock market, the equivalent of $371,393 at today’s rate, and at 21 had plastic surgery to reshape his chin, nose, and forehead.

At the age of 21, he joined a company and worked in their customer service department, where he worked alongside people of all nationalities. People who worked with him thought he was kind and caring, and one called him an “exceptional colleague.”

This view was not shared by everyone. A close friend of Breivik said that he had a big ego, and there was a hint of a racist attitude. Anyone who was from the Middle East or south Asia would irritate him. It was a sign of the anti-Islamism that would grow and reach its devastating peak on July 22nd.

One of his friends told the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang that Breivik had politically been far right at least since his mid to late 20s. But some people who knew him in secondary school said his far right leanings were evident even then, and one even mentioned that Breivik had attended neo-Nazi events.

When he wrote about his teenage years, Breivik described racial tensions between the young immigrants and the Norwegians. He also posted opinions that were controversial on Facebook and on, a Norwegian website that is critical of Islam.

Breivik’s ideology was based on the Eurabia belief that Muslim immigration and high birth rate would turn Europe into a Muslim continent. He believed that he could save Norway and Europe from the growing Muslim population by terrorist attacks, and in 2002, Breivik started to plan these attacks.

While working at the customer service department, he founded his own computer programming company, which he would use to finance the attacks. The company, according to Breivik, grew to six employees and boasted several offshore accounts. He claimed that he made his first million kroner within a couple of years, when he was 24 years old.

But the company was eventually declared bankrupt, and Breivik was reported for several breaches of the law. Breivik moved back home with his mother, to save money.

In 2009, Breivik found himself highly disillusioned by the church. At the age of 15, he was baptised into the Protestant church of “his own free will,” but by now was disgusted with it. In an online post, he wrote, "Today's Protestant church is a joke. Priests in jeans who march for Palestine and churches that look like minimalist shopping centres. I am a supporter of an indirect collective conversion of the Protestant church back to the Catholic."

In May 2009, he founded Breivik Geofarm, a farming company to cultivate vegetables, roots, tubers, and melons. The company was a cover that allowed him to buy large amounts of artificial fertilizer, which he would need to make the explosives he needed in his attacks.

Breivik had also travelled to Prague where he attempted to purchase illegal weapons, in particular an AK-47 and a semi-automatic pistol. He believed he could meet drug dealers in some of the sleazy bars and make a weapons deal. But the plan was unsuccessful, and all he managed to do was have sex with two prostitutes before leaving the Czech capital. He returned home empty handed. Instead, he decided to get the weapons through legal channels.

In May 2011, Breivik placed an order for fertilizer through his company. The agricultural supply company, Felleskjoepet Agri, delivered six tons of the fertilizer to the farm on May 4. It was not an unusual order.

Breivik also bought a small quantity of an explosive primer online from Poland, and as a result, his name was among 60 that were passed on to the Police Security Service by the Norwegian Customs. However, the information gave no indication of anything that was considered suspicious.

Breivik in uniform
Breivik in uniform

Six hours before the attacks commenced, a slide show appeared on YouTube. In it, Breivik appeared wearing a compression garment, clothing that provide support for people who need to remain standing for long periods of time. In the photograph, he is pointing a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle. Another photograph shows him dressed as a Knight Templar officer, his uniform ornamented with medals and gold braid.

In the video slide show, Breivik calls for conservatives to “embrace martyrdom.”  He sent the 12-minute video to 7,000 Facebook friends. He also emailed his “manifesto,” entitled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence,” to 1,003 addresses that he had collected. It was sent around 90 minutes before the explosion took place in Oslo.

The manifesto is a mixture of views and expressions of opinion from other writers, some rewritten to reflect Breivik views. These include sections of the Unabomber manifesto, many quotes from Bat Ye’or, the pseudonym of Gisèlle Littman, who writes about the history of non-Muslims in the Middle East, and the anti-Islamist Robert Spencer. Almost the entire manifesto has been lifted from the writings of others.

Breivik then began his attacks, which he would later call “cruel, but necessary.”

After his capture, Breivik confessed to the bombing and the shootings. He told authorities that the purpose of the attack was to save Europe, particularly Norway, from a Muslim takeover. He believed that the Labour Party had let down the people of Norway. Breivik also expressed admiration in his writings for the English Defense League, a far right protest movement against the spread of Islamism in England. However, The EDL condemned the Oslo and Utøya attacks, stating, "No form of terrorism can ever be justified and the taking of innocent lives can never be justified."

What emerged in the following days after the attack was that Breivik had carried out his plan while fuelled by drugs, taken to keep himself strong, efficient, and awake during the shootings. He had also targeted Brundtland, but was too late to kill her in the attack. He didn’t want to drive too fast and risk getting stopped. He is also, according to his lawyer, Geir Lippestad, insane, though this may be difficult to prove as the attacks seem well planned. If he can form intent, then he is not insane.

Lippestad also revealed that Breivik tried to call the police himself at least 10 times while he was carrying out the island massacre. He reached the police twice and told them who he was and that he wanted to surrender. But each time he got through, he hung up.

Breivik was remanded in custody for eight weeks, four of which would be in solitary confinement. When he finally does go on trial, he could be jailed for 21 years, which could then be extended by the courts five years at a time to keep him in jail indefinitely. No trial date has been set.

On Saturday, August 13th, Breivik was back on Utøya helping the police reconstruct the killing spree. During the eight hour visit to the island, Breivik described, in detail, the killings, walking around the island and acting out what he did that day. By the end, the police had a good overview of what occurred on the island, and a lot of unanswered questions were resolved, all of which will be used against Breivik when he comes to trial. Breivik showed some emotion about being back on the island, but did not show any remorse.

He has been called a Christian Terrorist, a term that has angered Christians who have pointed out that his actions are not Christian at all. What will emerge over the coming weeks and months is whether he acted alone or part of a group. He has hinted that there are other cells willing to carry out attacks, though some believe this may be just fantasy on his part.

What Breivik has achieved is to change the image of the terrorist, and show that terrorists do not have to come from foreign lands, but that we are capable of creating them within our own communities, that we can produce home-grown bombers – such as Timothy McVeigh – who are just as deadly and just as dedicated to destruction and death. And that if it can happen in a place whose dedication to peace is its overriding quality, then it can happen anywhere.

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