Survivors In Norway Describe Scenes Of Terror
A gunman who opened fire on an island teeming with young people kept shooting for 90 minutes before surrendering to a SWAT team, police said Saturday.
Survivors of the shooting spree have described hiding and fleeing into the water to escape the gunman, but a police briefing Saturday detailed for the first time how long the terror lasted — and how long victims waited for help.
When the SWAT team arrived, the gunman, who had two firearms, surrendered, said Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim.
"There were problems with transport to Utoya" island, where the youth-wing of Norway's Labour Party was holding a retreat, Sponheim said. "It was difficult to get a hold of boats, but that problem was solved when the SWAT team arrived."
At least 85 people were killed on the island, but police said four or five people were still missing. Divers have been searching the waters around the island.
The attack followed a bombing at a government building in Oslo, where seven people were killed. Police are still digging through rubble there, and Sponheim said body parts remain in the building.
Anders Giaever, a columnist for Verdens Gang newspaper in Norway, was on the seventh floor of his office building Friday when the explosion went off and shattered the window in his office.
"I think we actually heard the shattering of the glass before we heard the explosion because they all shattered around us ... and then we heard a big explosion," he told weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "I knew immediately that this was a bomb, but I thought it was a bomb inside our building. And when we came down the street later, we saw that it had happened one block away."
Police have not identified the suspect, but Norwegian national broadcaster NRK say he is 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik. Authorities have not identified a motive but have said he visited Christian fundamentalist websites and once belonged to the youth-wing of a rightist party.
"He had this belief that it was impossible to have a multicultural Norway, and people from Muslim countries were destroying Norway," Hallzard Sandberg, foreign news correspondent for NRK, told NPR's Scott Simon.
Police said he is talking to them and has admitted to firing weapons on the island. It was unclear if he had confessed to anything else he is accused of. Police said he retained a lawyer, but the attorney did not want to be named.
"He has had a dialogue with the police the whole time, but he's a very demanding suspect," Sponheim said.
Norway's royal family and prime minister led the nation in mourning, visiting grieving relatives of the scores of youth gunned down.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the twin attacks made Friday peacetime Norway's deadliest day.
"This is beyond comprehension. It's a nightmare. It's a nightmare for those who have been killed, for their mothers and fathers, family and friends," Stoltenberg told reporters earlier Saturday.
"There's an operation going on to identify the victims — the dead youngsters — and telling their parents, because the parents are here waiting for word. Not all of the parents know if their child is alive or dead yet," Sandberg said.
Norway's queen and prime minister hugged when they arrived at the hotel where families are waiting to identify the bodies. Both king and queen shook hands with mourners, while the prime minister, his voice trembling, told reporters of the harrowing stories survivors had recounted to him.
Survivors on the island described a scene there of terror. Several people fled into the water to escape the rampage, and police said they were still searching the lake for bodies.
"I spoke to some witnesses who had seen youngsters trying to hide by the waterside, and the gunman came toward them and fired point-blank at them with a machine pistol while they were lying on the water's edge," Sandberg said.
Aerial images broadcast by Norway's TV2 showed members of a SWAT team dressed in black arriving at the island in boats and running up the dock. People who had stripped down to their underwear moved in the opposite direction, swimming away from the island toward the mainland, some using flotation devices.
A 15-year-old camper named Elise said she heard gunshots, but then saw a police officer and thought she was safe. Then he started shooting people right before her eyes.
"I saw many dead people," said Elise, whose father didn't want her to disclose her last name. "He first shot people on the island. Afterward he started shooting people in the water."
Elise said she hid behind the same rock that the killer was standing on. "I could hear his breathing from the top of the rock," she said.
She said it was impossible to say how many minutes passed while she was waiting for him to stop.
At a hotel in the village of Sundvollen, where survivors of the shooting were taken, 21-year-old Dana Berzingi wore pants stained with blood. He said the fake police officer ordered people to come closer, then pulled weapons and ammunition from a bag and started shooting.
Several victims "had pretended they were dead to survive," Berzingi said. But after shooting the victims with one gun, the gunman shot them again in the head with a shotgun, he said.
"I lost several friends," said Berzingi, who used the cellphone of one of those friends to call police.
Police searched Breivik's Oslo apartment overnight. NRK and other Norwegian media posted pictures of Breivik. Faiq Barzingi, whose children survived the massacre, said his kids have identified the man in the photos as the gunman.
The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang reported that the suspect bought six tons of artificial fertilizer some 10 weeks before the attacks. Artificial fertilizer is highly explosive and can be used in homemade bombs.
Andresen, the acting police chief, said the suspect was talking to police.
"He is clear on the point that he wants to explain himself," he told reporters at a news conference.
Norway's national news agency says police are investigating whether a second suspect was involved.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the attack "is probably more Norway's Oklahoma City than it is Norway's World Trade Center."
Domestic terrorists carried out the 1995 attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City, while foreign terrorists were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Though the prime minister cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the gunman's motives, both attacks were in areas connected to the left-leaning Labour Party, which leads a coalition government. The youth camp is organized by the party's youth wing, and the prime minister had been scheduled to speak there Saturday.
The United States, European Union, NATO and the U.K., all quickly condemned the bombing, which Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague called "horrific" and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen deemed a "heinous act."
"It's a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring," U.S. President Obama said.
Obama extended his condolences to Norway's people and offered U.S. assistance with the investigation. He said he remembered how warmly Norwegians treated him in Oslo when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said the United States knew of no links to terrorist groups and early indications were the attack was domestic. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was being handled by Norway.
"A common topic of conversation in Norway is that this person will be convicted to the harshest penalty that we can give him, which is 21 years in prison," Sandberg said. "That means he is out after 16 years. He might be out after 14 years. And then he will be a free man. And he killed so many. We don't have laws that could lay out a penalty for what he's done."
This report contains material from The Associated Press.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.