In an exclusive interview with SPIEGEL, the head of special police unit that captured Anders Behring Breivik reconstructs the minutes of the operation, revealing that his officers nearly shot Breivik, fearing he might be carrying explosives. The suspicious device turned out to be an iPod.
In Germany, the commanders of special police task forces rarely speak about their work. SPIEGEL reporter Sven Becker was therefore all the more surprised when Anders Snortheimsmoen, the head of the Norway's emergency Delta Force unit, the Beredskapstroppen (BT), invited him for an interview at his office. By way of an introduction, he placed on the table a present from a German colleague: A coffee mug of the GSG 9, Germany's elite counterterrorism and special operations unit. Snortheimsmoen then spoke for 90 minutes about the events that unfolded on the day of the massacre. He also responded openly to the claim that his men could have arrived on the scene earlier. "We have to be transparent," says Snortheimsmoen. "Otherwise, people in Norway won't trust us anymore."
3:22 p.m.: An explosion rocked the center of Oslo. Shortly afterward, police received the first news of the event. About 20 members of the BT gathered at their headquarters, only a few kilometers from the scene of the explosion. They grabbed bullet-proof vests and helmets, loaded their weapons and rushed over to the government quarter, with the blue lights on their emergency vehicles flashing. Meanwhile, 15 other elite police units were summoned to headquarters.
"We have been planning for this eventuality for a long time," said Delta Force Commander Anders Snortheimsmoen. "Our soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan. Norway has been spared terrorist attacks. Still, we expected a slightly different organization to attack," he added.
3:35 p.m.: Delta Force officers reached the bomb-damaged Justice Ministry. They encountered dazed people wandering about, papers from the building blew through the air. Shards of glass were lying all around. The explosion had created a huge crater. "This force. We knew immediately it was a bomb," Snortheimsmoen said. Police officers scoured the city center for further bombs and pulled injured people out of the destroyed buildings.
Snortheimsmoen said he didn't accompany his colleagues to the scene. Instead he stayed behind at headquarters and went upstairs to the office of Oslo Police Chief Johan Fredriksen, which served as the center of operations. The special-forces officer warned Fredriksen that the bomb could be merely the opening salvo in a series of attacks, as proved to be the case on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York and with the attacks in the London subway and in Madrid and Mumbai.
Elsewhere in Oslo, Anders Breivik drove his Fiat Doblo van to his next target: The island of Utøya. A traffic jam prevented him from getting there quicker, and possibly killing even more people.
5:30 p.m.: Police headquarters received a call from Utøya. A person at the youth camp on the island said shots had been heard. Snortheimsmoen spoke to the caller. Eight more officers threw on their gear and jumped into a white Mercedes van.
Although the Oslo police force has a helicopter, it was being serviced at the time of the attacks. The media later criticized the fact that the Eurocopter E-135 had not been available, but Snortheimsmoen said his men wouldn't have reached their destination any faster, even if they had access to it.
The reason is that the helicopter has the latest technical equipment like a thermal imaging camera, but it can't carry any officers. The police are thus forced to work together with the Norwegian army, from which they can borrow Bell 412 helicopters. Two of the aircraft were dispatched to the city center shortly after the explosion. When the operations center got the call from Utøya, police diverted the helicopters to the island. They had orders to pick up the Delta Force officers on the way and drop them off near the site of the shooting.
6 p.m.: The delta officers in the van raced toward the island at high speed. Three-quarters of the way there, they reached a hilltop. This was their last chance to switch to the army helicopter for the rest of the trip. Beyond that point, there was no place for it to land. The officers stopped the vehicle and gazed skywards. Because the helicopters hadn't arrived yet, they decided to drive all the way to the shore of the lake.
6:09 p.m.: The unit reached the shore near Utøya. The local police force organized a boat to bring the Delta Force men over to the island. But the boat proved to be too small, and an engine broke down on the way across. The officers then had to transfer to two speedboats instead.
Snortheimsmoen denied that this had cost the officers any precious time. "We got to the island even faster by speedboat," he said. Five Delta Force officers were in the first boat. The second also contained two local policemen, bringing the total number of officers to 10. As they headed across the lake to the island, they could hear shots. Youth who had been on the island swam past their boat, heading for the mainland.
Back at the operations center in Oslo, Snortheimsmoen could monitor what was happening on the island on the police radio. His men didn't have cameras installed on their helmets, so Snortheimsmoen couldn't see what was happening. As this all transpired, he recalled, his thoughts were filled with worries -- about both the children and youth and his men. At that point, no one knew how many people were on the island firing weapons.
6:25 p.m.: The police officers reached Utøya. Youth were hiding behind the jetty. The first group of officers headed directly toward the sound of the gunfire, while the second group proceeded along the shore, where they could see lifeless bodies in the water. In the campsite, they found young people who had been shot lying in pools of their own blood.
The officers found Breivik near the shore, disguised in a police uniform. The first unit walked straight toward him as the second closed in from the side, hidden behind trees. At this point, Breivik still had several loaded magazines in his jacket and one round in the barrel of his semiautomatic Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle. His Glock 17 pistol had been emptied, but was still attached to his clothing, the slide pulled backward, Snortheimsmoen said.
Breivik was standing no more than 50 meters (150 feet) from the officers. The policemen told him to raise his hands and drop his weapons. Breivik laid his rifle on the ground and spread his arms out, but he didn't put them over his head.
He walked toward the Delta Force men slowly. The officers could see a wire sticking out of Breivik's jacket and worried that he might be wearing a vest laden with explosives.
The policemen had permission to shoot Breivik down if he took another step closer. At that moment the officers behind the trees noticed that the wire was leading up to Breivik's ear. "They then knew he wasn't wearing explosives," Snortheimsmoen said, and they decided to make their move. The police officers walked up to Breivik and grabbed him. The bloodbath ended at 6:27 p.m.
After they have arrested Breivik, the officers discovered his iPod. "I assume he was listening to music," Snortheimsmoen said, just as he had predicted he would in his manifesto. "I will put my iPod on max volume as a tool to suppress fear," Brievik had written in his 1,500-page treatise. "I might just put Lux Aeterna by Clint Mansell on repeat as it is an incredibly powerful song."
Approx. 6:45 p.m.: Twenty-seven more Delta Force officers landed on the island. They began searching for possible further assailants, but what they found were gasoline-filled plastic bottles hanging from trees. Were these incendiary devices that Breivik intended to light later as a kind of final inferno? Snortheimsmoen said he doesn't know. The sole responsibility of his unit, he said, was capturing Breivik. Investigators in Oslo are refusing to comment.
7 p.m.: The Delta Force men began helping the injured. "We used up all our bandages," Snortheimsmoen said. "My guys ended up ripping their own shirts to shreds to use as bandages." Meanwhile, scenes of indescribable horror were still playing out on the island. Many of the youth didn't trust the police. "Have you come to kill us?" they asked the special-forces officers. Some children remained hidden in the woods for an hour after the last shot had been fired.
Breivik was kept at the place where he was captured for at least a half-hour. A single policeman guarded him while the others scoured the island for accomplices and explosives. Breivik was cut off from the rest of the island. He couldn't see the suffering he had caused, though he could hear the police sirens, the sounds of the speedboats and perhaps even the cries of the terrified and injured youth. Once they had secured the island, the officers took Breivik to a house.
1:30 a.m.: The Delta Force officers left Utøya. Their deployment had come to an end. At this point in time, Andres Breivik was still being held in the house. Eyewitnesses would later state that he smiled as he was being led there.
"I'm proud of my guys," said Snortheimsmoen. "They worked extremely hard under very difficult circumstances. But I get very sad when I think about the dead children and the parents who have lost their sons and daughters." At the end of the conversation with SPIEGEL, Snortheimsmoen accompanied us to the door. At the entrance to the building, an officer pressed three roses into his hand -- a gift from an anonymous well-wisher. A card attached to the bouquet read, "Thank you for saving so many lives."
Translated from the German by Jan Libelt
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH