In the immediate aftermath of an unprecedented Oslo bombing this afternoon that killed at least seven people, authorities declined to speculate on who was behind the blast and what their motives might have been.
But the attacks are likely to prompt soul-searching in Norway, and many citizens are likely to suspect Islamic militants, says Iver Neumann, research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).
“Norwegian forces are currently involved in two wars, Afghanistan and Libya. Parts of the Norwegian media participated in the Danish caricature campaign [of the prophet Muhammad] in 2005. We know that Al Qaeda has put Norway on a list of potential targets,” says Mr. Neumann. “There will certainly be a debate about Norway’s relationship with Islam. And there will be a debate about the level of security we afford to our leaders.”
Norwegians are in a state of shock after a powerful explosion in Oslo’s government quarter. Police have confirmed that seven people are dead and two seriously injured in the attack, which damaged the prime minister’s office and the oil ministry.
Reuters described seeing a burned, mangled car parked near one of the buildings. Police cordoned off a large swath of central Oslo and are asking people to stay clear of the area and to limit their use of cell phones.
Authorities now believe the bombing is connected to a shooting at youth summer camp that happened just hours after the blast.
The shooting took place on the island of Utoya, west of the capital, where news reports said a man disguised as a police officer opened fire on the camp. At least five have been shot. The camp was organized by the governing Norwegian Labor party and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was expected to visit the camp today.
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Recently, a Norwegian prosecutor filed terror charges against an Iraqi-born cleric Mullah Krekar who allegedly threatened to kill Norwegian politicians if he is deported to Iraq. Mr. Krekar, the founder of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, still lives in the country.
A suicide bomber hit Sweden, Norway's neighbor, in early December. The Iraqi-born man, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, named Sweden’s military presence in Afghanistan and Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew an image of the prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body in 2007, as motivation for the attack. Only two people were injured.
Swedish police have stepped up security in Stockholm in reaction to the attack and Swedish Foreign Ministry Carl Bildt expressed solidarity with his Scandinavian neighbor, writing on Twitter, "Terrorism has struck. Police confirms bomb in Oslo. We are all Norwegians."
“Many Norwegians remember what happened in Oklahoma,” says Neumann’s colleague, Stale Ulriksen, director of NUPI. “Everybody started talking about Islamic fundamentalism and then it turned out to be an American right-winger. Norway’s extreme right is small in numbers, but that’s the problem with this kind of attack – it doesn’t take many people to pull something like this off.”
NUPI offices are about 200 yards from the prime minister’s building. “I took my 5-year-old son to the office just to pick up some mail,” says Neumann. “We left the building 30 minutes before the blast. I can’t believe how lucky we were.”
“This is absolutely unprecedented,” says Neumann, who seems shaken by the explosion. “This is the most serious act of violence that has happened in Norway since the end of World War II, when the country was occupied by the Nazis.”
Even if the number of fatalities does not climb, he is convinced that the impact of the explosion will be huge.
“There are 5 million Norwegians, 600,000 in Oslo, this means everyone will know someone who was at the blast site. The whole country is on edge.”
After incidents in other Scandinavian countries, namely the murders of Sweden’s prime minister Olof Palme in 1986 and of Sweden’s Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003, Norway made a conscious decision not to heighten the protection for politicians and other public figures.
“We see it as a key political value in itself not to have that kind of militarized society,” says Neumann. “Whether we can still afford such an open society, is now up for debate.”