Norway PM: After attacks, make country more open
OSLO, Norway (AP) – Norway will never be the same after last week’s bombing and mass shooting but it shouldn’t change the way the suspect wants it to, the prime minister said Wednesday. He called on his country to react by more tightly embracing, rather than abandoning, the culture of tolerance that Anders Behring Breivik said he was trying to destroy.
“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg insisted at a news conference.
Friday’s bombing outside Stoltenberg’s offices in Oslo and the shooting that followed at a camp organized by the youth wing of his Labor Party killed 76 people and battered the psyche of a nation that prides itself on openness. Breivik confessed but has pleaded not guilty, claiming the attacks were necessary to fight what he called Muslim colonization and multiculturalism.
“I think what we have seen is that there is going to be one Norway before and one Norway after July 22,” Stoltenberg said. “But I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before.”
Stoltenberg strongly defended the right to speak freely – even if it includes extremist views such as Breivik’s.
“We have to be very clear to distinguish between extreme views, opinions – that’s completely legal, legitimate to have. What is not legitimate is to try to implement those extreme views by using violence,” he said in English.
Stoltenberg’s promise in the face of twin attacks signaled a contrast to the U.S. response after the 9/11 attacks, when Washington gave more leeway to perform wiretaps and search records.
It reflects the difference between the two countries’ approaches to terrorism. The U.S. has been frustrated by what it considers Scandinavia’s lack of aggressive investigation and arrests.
Since the attacks, Stoltenberg and members of Norway’s royal family have underlined the country’s openness by making public appearances with little visible security guarding them.
Norway’s response to the camp attack, on the island of Utoya, has been criticized. Though it is just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Oslo, it took police 90 minutes to get there. The crew of the sole helicopter available to police was on vacation, and the first boat that officials tried to take to the island broke down.
The leader of Norway’s Delta Force anti-terror police unit defended the special operations team and said the breakdown didn’t cause a significant delay. The team jumped into other boats and got to Utoya quickly, police officials said.
On Wednesday, police gave an eerie account of the end of the siege, saying Breivik obediently gave up the moment police approached him, holding his hands over his head.
“It was a completely normal arrest,” said officer Haavard Gaasbakk.
Stoltenberg said an independent commission will be formed to investigate the attacks and determine what lessons can be learned from the response. The commission also is to help survivors and relatives cope with the aftermath. Parliament said it is willing to help pay for funerals, and a monument will be built to commemorate the victims.
The prime minister, perhaps mindful of many Norwegians’ reserved ways, urged the country to fully grieve: “I have cried, and I have told many people that they should not hesitate to cry.”
The national sense of heartbreak is being renewed daily as police slowly release names of the dead. The identities of only 17 of those known to have been killed have been officially confirmed. Eight died in the explosion and 68 died in the camp shootings.
The youngest-known victim so far was identified Wednesday – camper Sharidyn Svebakk-Boehn, who turned 14 five days before the rampage. Another victim confirmed dead at the camp was a stepbrother of Crown Princess Mette-Matrit, 51-year-old police officer Trond Berntsen, who had been providing security on the island.
An employee of Stoltenberg’s office, 51-year-old Anne Lise Holter, was confirmed Wednesday as one of the eight dead in the bomb blast.
Norwegian media, meanwhile, suggested that police knew Breivik’s identity even before they reached Utoya, tracing him through a rental car company from which he rented the panel van used for the bomb.
Dag Andre Johansen, Scandinavian CEO of Avis car rental company, told the AP that Breivik had rented two vehicles, including a Volkswagen Crafter van. He said police contacted the company after the bombing and got Breivik’s identity confirmed. But he declined to say whether that contact came before Breivik was arrested on the island.
Many in Oslo felt a new twinge of worry Wednesday morning when parts of the capital’s rail and bus complex were evacuated because of a suspicious abandoned suitcase. Police later said no explosives were found. The Norwegian news agency NTB said a bus driver turned in the alarm after seeing a passenger leave the suitcase and walk into the station at a fast clip.