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Friday, July 22, 2011

Seven dead as bomb rocks Norway; several shot dead at youth camp - The Globe and Mail

Seven dead as bomb rocks Norway; several shot dead at youth camp

Terrorism ravaged long-peaceful Norway on Friday when a powerful bomb ripped through several buildings, including the prime minister's office, and a man dressed as a police officer opened fire at a nearby island youth camp.

Seven people were killed in the bomb blast in central Oslo, the nation's worst attack since World War II. Local media reported fatalities at the camp, but police would not confirm any deaths.

A man wearing a police uniform opened fire at youths during the annual gathering of the government’s Labour Party youth section at Utøya, an island outside Oslo, spokesman Per Gunnar Dahl said.

Panicked teenagers tried to escape the gunfire by swimming to the mainland, he said. Some 700 people, mostly between the ages of 14 and 18, were attending the camp.

“There is a critical situation at Utøya,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told independent TV2. His calendar showed that he had been due to make a speech at the meeting on Saturday.

Former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland had been due to attend the gathering on Friday.

One person was arrested following the shootings at the youth camp, Norway's state broadcaster said.

Police said they suspect the shootings are linked to the bombing in Oslo.

A Norwegian government official, Hans Kristian Amundsen, earlier told the BBC that "there are still people in the buildings" at the blast site.

The explosion blew out most windows on the 17-storey building housing Mr. Stoltenberg’s office, as well as nearby ministries, including the oil ministry, which was on fire. Heavy debris littered the streets and smoke rose over the city centre.

Mr. Stoltenberg, who was said to have been working at home when the blast occurred, said all cabinet ministers in the centre-left coalition government seemed to be safe.

“This is very serious,” he told Norwegian TV2 television by phone. He said that police had advised him not to say where he was speaking from.

Asked if the blast was caused by a car bomb, Oslo police chief Anstein Gjengdal said: "It is possible that a vehicle has been used in this incident, but we can't confirm this." Local television showed images of the blackened, tangled wreckage of a car lying on its side amid the debris.

He said police sealed off the office of Norwegian broadcaster TV2 to investigate a suspicious package there.

In addition to the seven fatalities, Oslo police said two people had been seriously wounded.

Below: YouTube playlist of videos from Oslo, mobile users can alsoclick here

The square where the bomb exploded was covered in twisted metal and shattered glass, and carpeted in documents expelled from the surrounding buildings, which also house the headquarters of some of Norway's leading newspapers.

Witness Ole Tommy Pedersen was standing at a nearby bus stop around 3:30 p.m. local time when he saw the blast shatter almost all the windows of a 20-floor highrise. He said a cloud of smoke was billowing from the bottom floors.

“I saw three or four injured people being carried out of the building a few minutes later,” Mr. Pedersen told The Associated Press.

Nearby offices were evacuated, including those housing some of Norway's leading newspapers and news agency NTB.

"It exploded – it must have been a bomb. People ran in panic and ran. I counted at least 10 injured people," said Kjersti Vedun, who was leaving the area.

An AP reporter who was in the NTB office said the building shook from the blast and all employees evacuated the building as the alarm went off. He saw one person with a bleeding leg being led away from the area.

The government building houses the prime minister's office and his administration. Several ministries are in surrounding buildings.

NATO member Norway has sometimes in the past been threatened by leaders of al-Qaeda for its involvement in Afghanistan. It has also taken part the NATO bombing of Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi has threatened to strike back in Europe.

However, political violence is virtually unknown in the country.

David Lea, Western Europe analyst, at Control Risks said: “It’s very difficult to tell what has happened. There certainly aren’t any domestic Norwegian terrorist groups although there have been some al-Qaeda-linked arrests from time to time.

“They are in Afghanistan and were involved in Libya, but it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions.”

The blast comes as the Scandinavian country has grappled with a series of homegrown terror plots linked to al-Qaeda, and six years after an uproar over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in neighboring Denmark.

Last week, a Norwegian prosecutor filed terror charges against an Iraqi-born cleric for threatening Norwegian politicians with death if he's deported from the Nordic country.

The indictment centered on statements that Mullah Krekar — the founder of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam — made to various media, including American network NBC.

Danish authorities say they have foiled several terror plots linked to the 2005 newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that triggered protests in Muslim countries.

Last month, a Danish appeals court on Wednesday sentenced a Somali man to 10 years in prison for breaking into the home of a cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.

With a report from Jill Mahoney


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