Norway was today coming to terms with one of the worst atrocities in recent European history as police revealed that 91 people died in the attacks in the centre of Oslo and on a nearby island summer camp, apparently the work of a lone gunman.
The killings, it now seems clear, were carried out by a 32-year old Norwegian, named by local media as Anders Behring Breivik, who had expressed far-right views, and had dressed as a policeman to carry out his bomb attack on government buildings in central Oslo before heading to the island of Utøya, where he shot at least 84 people.
Survivors of the island attack, which took place barely two hours after a huge bomb was detonated close to the offices of Norway’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, described how the gunmen moved across the small, wooded Utøya holiday island on Friday firing at random as young people scattered in fear.
Teenagers at the lakeside camp organised by Stoltenberg’s ruling Labour party fled screaming in panic, many leaping into the water or climbing trees to save themselves, when the attacker began spraying them with gunfire.
“A paradise island has been transformed into a hell,” Stoltenberg told a news conference on Saturday morning.
He said he did not want to speculate on the motives of the attacks, but added: “Compared to other countries I wouldn’t say we have a big problem with rightwing extremists in Norway. But we have had some groups, we have followed them before, and our police is aware that there are some rightwing groups.”
Police spokesman Roger Andresen said of Behring Breivik, who was arrested by anti-terrorism officers at the scene of the shooting: “He is clear on the point that he wants to explain himself.”
Andersen said the suspect also posted on websites with Christian fundamentalist tendencies. He did not describe the websites in any more details.
Norway’s national police chief, Sveinung Sponheim, told the national broadcaster NRK that the suspected gunman’s internet postings “suggest he has some political traits directed towards the right, and anti-Muslim views, but whether that was a motivation for the actual act remains to be seen”.
Andersen said the suspect posted on websites with Christian fundamentalist tendencies. He did not describe the websites in any more details.
A police official said the suspect appears to have acted alone in both attacks, and that “it seems like this is not linked to any international terrorist organisations at all.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because that information had not been officially released by Norway’s police.
“It seems it’s not Islamic-terror related,” the official said. “This seems like a madman’s work.”
The attacks are the worst in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings when 191 people were killed.
Police initially said about 10 people were killed at the camp on the island of Utøya, but some survivors said they thought the toll was much higher. Police director Øystein Mæland told reporters early on Saturday they had discovered many more victims.
“It’s taken time to search the area. What we know now is that we can say that there are at least 80 killed at Utøya,” Mæland said. “It goes without saying that this gives dimensions to this incident that are exceptional.”
Mæland said the death toll could rise even more. He said others were severely injured, but police did not know how many were hurt.
Witnesses and survivors of the island attack described scenes of horror and panic.
“I just saw people jumping into the water, about 50 people swimming towards the shore. People were crying, shaking, they were terrified,” said Anita Lien, 42, who lives by Tyrifjord lake, a few hundred metres from Utøya. “They were so young, between 14 and 19 years old.”
Survivor Jorgen Benone said: “It was total chaos … I think several lost their lives as they tried to get over to the mainland.
“I saw people being shot. I tried to sit as quietly as possible. I was hiding behind some stones. I saw him once, just 20, 30 metres away from me. I thought, ‘I’m terrified for my life,’ I thought of all the people I love.
“I saw some boats but I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I didn’t know who I could trust any more.”
Another survivor, a 16-year-old called Hana, told Norway’s Aftenposten: “We had all gathered in the main house to talk about what had happened in Oslo. Suddenly we heard shots. First we thought it was nonsense. Then everyone started running.
“I saw a policeman stand there with earplugs. He said, ‘I’d like to gather everyone.’ Then he ran in and started shooting at people. We ran down towards the beach and began to swim.”
Hana said the gunman fired at people in the water.
Police seized the gunman, named by local media as Anders Behring Breivik, and later found undetonated explosives on the island, a pine-clad strip of land about 500 metres long.
Breivik’s Facebook page appeared to have been blocked by late evening.
Earlier, it had listed interests including bodybuilding, conservative politics and freemasonry.
Norwegian media said he had set up a Twitter account a few days ago and posted a single message on 17 July saying: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”
About 10 police officers were outside the address registered to his name in a four-storey red brick building in the west of Oslo.
The Norwegian daily Verdens Gang quoted a friend as saying he became a rightwing extremist in his late 20s. It said he expressed strong nationalistic views in online debates and had been a strong opponent of the idea that people of different cultural backgrounds can live alongside each other. Guardian.co.uk