'Closeness Amid Our Sorrow' Norway Mourns Victims of Twin Attacks

The twin attacks which left more than 90 people dead have stunned Norwegians and changed the country for ever. Nowhere is the sense of mourning clearer than in Sundvollen, a town near the scene of the shootings, where the relatives of victims gathered on Saturday.

REUTERS

By and in Sundvollen, Norway


On Saturday, Norway's grief was concentrated in a brown wooden hotel in the town of Sundvollen. Less than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away is the island of Utoya, the scene of Norway's worst disaster since World War II, a shooting spree at a political youth camp that left 85 people dead. The suspected killer has been identified as Anders Behring B., a 32-year-old Norwegian man with right-wing extremist views. On Saturday, hundreds of relatives of the victims gathered at this hotel near the island. Parents huddled in the chairs outside, as young people wept silently in their arms.

A priest comes out of the building. It is Johann Osterhus, the pastor of the local church. "We have set up a room here," he says. The priest is there around the clock to console the family members. "These people are waiting to identify their beloved children," he says, his voice beginning to tremble. "We can only listen to them and stand together with them."

Eirik Inge Johansen, a slim 18-year-old boy with dark hair, stands in the crowd. He was there when terror came to Utoya. He can hardly speak. "I was in the middle of the island when I heard a shot. At first I thought it was fireworks," he says. "When we realized that it was serious, we started to run. We ran to the pier as quickly as we could." There they met the ferryman, who took Eirik and seven of his friends to safety. It was the only crossing that the ferry would make. The boat was unable to return to the island because of the shooting.

Ida Knudsen, 16, describes her escape from the island to reporters. She is tall and blond. Her mouth keeps trembling and her eyes look desperate. She says she saw the killer arriving on the island. "He was tall and was wearing dark clothing." Like the others, she believed that he was a policeman. He was about 50 meters away from her when he fired the first shots, she says. Ida and about 10 of her friends ran into the woods, and hid behind trees. "But the shots came closer," says Ida. Some of her friends had fled into the water, she says. She herself is unable to swim. Local residents rescued her by boat. "Many of my friends are dead," she says. Then a police chaplain comes and takes the distraught girl back to the hotel.

Other eyewitnesses talked of execution-style killings, saying that the attacker deliberately fired at youths who were playing dead. He also cheered after firing his fatal shots, they said.

Horror in a Small Country

All of Norway is in shock following the terrible events. On Saturday, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg came to Sundvollen and met with relatives of victims, hugging them. Then King Harald V also appeared with Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon. The king was wearing a hunting coat, while the crown prince had on brown trousers and a black wool sweater -- clothing that was perhaps chosen deliberately to show their closeness to the grieving people. Prime Minister Stoltenberg spoke repeatedly of the horror that had been inflicted on the small country of Norway. "The only signal that we can send out to the world is showing closeness amid our sorrow," he said.

The attacks are especially shocking in a country where fewer than 30 people are murdered on average per year. On Friday, over 90 people died in a single afternoon.

A young mother with blond hair called Katie Lossius returns from a small local supermarket, together with her one-and-a-half-year-old son. She seems almost apologetic that she had gone to buy a few cans of baked beans. It seems a very mundane thing to do at a moment that is so extraordinary in the history of her country.

Lossius heard the helicopters and the boats that were suddenly going around. "I had just come back from work, when it all happened," she says. Now her community is in shock. "People haven't been able to process everything yet," she says. Nobody here is asking themselves why the attack happened, she says. "There is no explanation for it except that this man must be crazy," she says as she rolls her child's stroller nervously back and forth. Many local people just want to get home as quickly as possible. And many watch in stunned amazement as around two hundred journalists set their things up at the stone wall outside the hotel.

Other people want to stay, or have to stay. Harald Olsen, a blond man in his mid-40s, helped to organize the summer camp, which was held by the youth wing of the ruling center-left Labor Party, in recent years. Now he stands there and waits for news of his friends and the friends of his sons. "We do not know whether they are dead or just injured," he says.

Paradise 'Turned into Hell'

The terror struck the center of political power in Oslo, and government employees are reported to be among those killed by the bomb explosion. But the terror also struck in the heart of Norwegian society. Around 600 politically active young people were attending the summer camp. The island, which belongs to the Labor Party's youth wing, is an idyllic location. Prime Minister Stoltenberg described the island as the "paradise of my youth" which had now been "turned into hell."

On Saturday, the day after the shooting spree, the waters of the fjord where the island is located were calm and black. Divers were still searching in the water, while barking sniffer dogs ran around on the shore. Hearses with white crosses on their roofs were lined up on a road. On the day of the attacks, it had been cold at the fjord, but Saturday was warm and humid.

Police believe the suspect drove to Utoya after setting off the bomb in central Oslo. On his route, he must have passed red wooden houses, waterfalls and rushing mountain streams -- a stunningly beautiful natural landscape which makes the attacks even harder to understand.

How will Norway ever find peace again? "We are an open and democratic society and have every right to continue to not be afraid," said Prime Minister Stoltenberg. But it is clear that a new era has begun for the country.

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Inglenda2 07/24/2011
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It would certainly be wrong to misuse the sad events in Norway for political purposes. None of those young victims had done anything which could have occasioned such a reaction. Nevertheless, the history of mankind has always indicated and brought forward unjust violence. Whether one looks at the Roman- or Austrian Empires, or recent Middle East and European incidents, human-beings have always used brutal methods in an attempt to force certain styles of reasoning and conceptions, on to others. This would include the small, but strong, minorities who not only welcome, but demand multicultural societies. Such mixed forms of community are then usually accepted by the silent majority for a various number of reasons, not all of which selfless. Others experience such patchwork populations with apprehension and dismay. This can then lead to fear and aversion, from which it is only a small step to violence. All around the world, from Australia over the Middle East to Turkey, across Europe to within the streets of Berlin or Nottingham, racial intolerance can be experienced. It is seldom one-sided, the responsibility of just one ethnic, political or religious group, but rather the result of being forced to live in a too close vicinity. We now have, in nearly every country of Europe, governments which choose to deny, or ignore, the cause for conflicts between the native population and migrants in their own state. Instead, armed-forces are being sent overseas to fight terrorists, who might never have been enemies, had they been treated them with the same respect currently awaited from normal citizens at home. The only real surprise to be detected in the ghastly criminal attack, on the innocent victims of Norway, is the target. Everything else has a dreadful explanation and could have been avoided.
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