Oslo bomb blast shatters a quiet summer afternoon


JON MAGNUS, chief foreign correspondent of Oslo’s VGnewspaper, was sitting at his desk finishing a comment article when the bomb’s blast wave blew him off his chair.

“It was 3.26 in the afternoon,” he said. “Suddenly the whole building was shaking. It was like it was dancing. There was glass flying through the newsroom.”

Located a few hundred metres from the little square at Einar Gerhardsen Place which separates the building housing the ministry of health and the offices of the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, the explosion struck the side of the glass-fronted newspaper offices closest to the cluster of government buildings.

The blast shattered what had been a quiet afternoon in Oslo’s summer holiday season, when most people in the capital were preparing to leave for the weekend.

It came months after Norway’s state security services warned of the increased risk of jihad-inspired terrorism in Norway, a country that has had almost no modern experience of mass terror. It is not confirmed that the attacks are in fact jihadist.

“Even though I was on the far side of our newsroom from where the explosion occurred,” Magnus said, “the air pressure was so enormous it knocked me off my chair. I thought the bomb had exploded in our newsroom.”

It had exploded several hundred metres away, however. The blast was so intense, he added, that when he ventured outside immediately afterwards he could see walls had been ripped away and government buildings were burning.

“When I reached the blown-out windows closest to the explosion I could see the prime minister’s office on fire. I could see we were right in the middle of the explosion. When I ran out of the building it was complete chaos. I could hear people screaming and see people covered in blood and what looked like corpses, lifeless people with their faces covered. I counted four or five.

“Before we left our own offices we had a pair of binoculars and we could see in the health department what seemed to be bodies hanging out of the windows. We could see into some of the floors and could see people also inside – what appeared to be bodies.

“There were two badly damaged cars close to the prime minister’s office,” he continued. “One of them had its wheels in the air. Eyewitnesses told us they had seen a black car with four people in it speeding away from the site of the blast.”

Photographs of the blast scene showed several prone and bloody figures lying on the ground close to Stoltenberg’s office. Others showed survivors walking through the ruins of Oslo’s government district, faces bloody, past walls of shattered windows, frames sucked in by the vacuum caused by the huge blast.

The sense of a country suddenly under siege heightened within a few hours as reports emerged of an attack by a gunman, reportedly dressed as a policeman, on a youth camp being attended by members of Stoltenberg’s party outside Oslo.

This raised fears that a Mumbai-type attack warned of for so long by intelligence services in Europe had been mounted where it was least expected – in Norway, perhaps chosen as a soft target.

It was a secondary attack that seemed to confirm Stoltenberg and his party were the target.

VG broke the news that a gunman had opened fire at Utoeya, and anti-terror units were being dispatched to the scene.

Stoltenberg underlined the sense of sudden crisis in Norway by informing his countrymen on television he could not reveal his location because of the terror threat. “This is very serious,” Stoltenberg told Norwegian TV2 television in a phone call. “Even though we have prepared for this type of situation.”

Speaking again after the shooting at the island youth camp where he had been due to speak today, Stoltenberg added: “There is a critical situation at Utoeya.”

Labour spokesman Per Gunnar Dahl told Associated Press some 700 people, mostly teenagers between 14 and 18, had been assembled for the camp. “This is a terror attack. It is the most violent event to strike Norway since World War two,” said a shocked Geir Bekkevold, an opposition parliamentarian for the Christian People’s Party. – ( Guardianservice)