Oslo: A suspected right-wing Christian gunman in police uniform killed at least 84 people in a ferocious attack on a youth summer camp of Norway’s ruling Labour party, hours after a bomb killed seven in Oslo.
Witnesses said the gunman, identified by police as a 32-year-old Norwegian, moved across the small, wooded Utoeya holiday island on Friday firing at random as young people scattered in fear.
Police detained the tall, blond suspect, named by local media as Anders Behring Breivik, and charged him for the island killing spree and the Oslo bomb blast.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, capturing the shock the attacks have caused in this normally quiet nation of 4.8 million, said: “A paradise island has been transformed into a hell.”
Deputy police Chief Roger Andresen would not speculate on the man’s motives but told a news conference: “He describes himself as a Christian, leaning toward right-wing Christianity, on his Facebook page.”
“As of now we have 84 dead at Utoeya,” Andresen said. “In Oslo, with the explosion and the impact it had, we are not yet sure if that number is final. At Utoeya, the water is still being searched for more victims.”
Teenagers at the lakeside camp fled screaming in panic, many leaping into the water to save themselves, when the assailant began spraying them with gunfire, witnesses said.
“I just saw people jumping into the water, about 50 people swimming towards the shore. People were crying, shaking, they were terrified,” said Anita Lien, 42, who lives by Tyrifjord lake, a few hundred metres (yards) from Utoeya.
“They were so young, between 14 and 19 years old.”
Survivor Jorgen Benone said: “It was total chaos...I think several lost their lives as they tried to get over to the mainland.
“I saw people being shot. I tried to sit as quietly as possible. I was hiding behind some stones. I saw him once, just 20, 30 metres away from me. I thought ‘I’m terrified for my life, I thought of all the people I love.
“I saw some boats but I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I didn’t know who I could trust any more.”
“We had all gathered in the main house to talk about what had happened in Oslo. Suddenly we heard shots. First we thought it was nonsense. Then everyone started running,” one survivor, a 16-year-old called Hana, told Norway’s Aftenposten.
“I saw a policeman stand there with earplugs. He said ‘I’d like to gather everyone´. Then he ran in and started shooting at people. We ran down towards the beach and began to swim.”
Hana said the gunman fired at people in the water.
Many sought shelter in buildings as shots echoed across the island that was hosting the annual camp for the youth wing of the Labour Party, the dominant force in politics since World War II. Others fled into the woods or tried to swim to safety.
Boats searched for survivors into the night, searchlights sweeping the coast. Rescue helicopters flew overhead.
Stoltenberg said he knew many of the victims personally. “I know the young people and I know their parents,” he said.
“And what hurts more is that this place where I have been every summer since 1979, and where I have experienced joy, commitment and security, has been hit by brutal violence , a youth paradise has been transformed into a hell.”
“What happened at Utoeya is a national tragedy,” he said of the small wooded holiday island where the gunman ran amok. “Not since World War II has our country seen a greater crime.”
Explosives found on island
The bomb, which shook Oslo’s centre in mid-afternoon, blew out the windows of the prime minister’s building and damaged the finance and oil ministry buildings.
Police found undetonated explosives on Utoeya, a pine-clad island about 500 metres long.
Breivik’s Facebook page appeared to have been blocked by late Friday. Earlier, it had listed interests including bodybuilding, conservative politics and freemasonry.
Norwegian media said he had set up a Twitter account a few days ago and posted a single message on 17 July saying: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”
About 10 policemen were outside the address registered to his name in a four-storey red brick building in west Oslo.
The Norwegian daily Verdens Gang quoted a friend as saying he became a right-wing extremist in his late 20s. It said he expressed strong nationalistic views in online debates and had been a strong opponent of multi-cultural ism.
With police advising people to evacuate central Oslo, and some soldiers taking up positions on the streets, the usually sleepy capital was gripped by fear of fresh attacks. Streets were strewn with shattered masonry, glass and twisted steel.
Right-wing militancy has generated sporadic attacks in other countries, including the United States. In 1995, 168 people were killed when Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City.
The Oslo district attacked is the very heart of power in Norway. Nevertheless, security is not tight in a country unused to such violence and better known for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize and mediating in conflicts, including the Middle East and Sri Lanka.