Powerful explosions shook central Oslo on Friday afternoon, blowing out the windows of several government buildings, including one housing the office of the Norwegian prime minister. The Norwegian public broadcaster NRK reported that at least one person was killed and several more injured, but a spokeswoman for the prime minister said he was “safe and not hurt.”
Stunned office staff and civil servants working in the vicinity of the bombed building said two explosions could be heard in close succession. The sound of the blasts echoed across the city just before 3:30 p.m. local time. Giant clouds of light-colored smoke continued to rise hundreds of feet into the air over the city as a fire burned in one of the damaged structures, a six-story office building that houses the oil ministry.
Photos and television footage showed windows blown out in the 17-story office building across the street from the oil ministry, and the street and plaza areas on each side were strewn with glass and debris.
Norwegian police did not immediately return messages requesting comment.
The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear, but a Reuters reporter described seeing the mangled wreckage of a car near one of the buildings.
The explosions ripped through the modern cluster of government buildings around the Einar Gerhardsens plaza at a time when many Norwegians were on vacation and many more had left their offices early for the weekend.
At the bomb site, police evacuated and roped off the area around the buildings as tension mixed with shaken fascination. Many residents milled around the area, some snapping photos of the destruction. Store windows were blown out for several blocks around the plaza.
While Norway has seen little political violence in recent years, the country has a small fighting contingent in Afghanistan and was one of several countries cited by Ayman al-Zawahri, the Al Qaeda leader, as potential targets for attack. In 2006, Norwegian newspapers reprinted Danish cartoons that angered Muslims by lampooning the Prophet Muhammad.
A Norwegian security analyst, who asked not to be named, the country has historically seen a low risk from terrorism but cautioned that the nature of the explosion was still not know. Three Norwegian men were arrested in July 2010 on suspicion of terrorism and were said to be a terrorist “node” in a larger global network, American counterterrorism officials said at the time.
The city filled with an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. “We heard two loud bangs and then we saw this yellow smoke coming from the government buildings,” Jeppe Bucher, 18, who works on a ferry boat less than a mile from the bomb site. “There was construction around there, so we thought it was a building being torn down.” New York Times