In Norway, a sense of bewilderment and vows to stand together

Flags are at half mast in Norway and informal memorials have popped up near the bombing site as the country comes to grips with the fact that one of their own carried out attacks that killed at least 92 people.

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
Mourners gather around an improvised shrine in Oslo, Norway, to remember the victims of the shooting and bombing attacks on Friday.

Norway continued to reel today as the country, known for its low-crime rates and mild-mannered politics, sought to come to grips with the largest attack on its soil since World War II.

Many Norwegians remained in shock over the news that the man accused of carrying out Friday’s terrorist bombing of government buildings and massacring of dozens of youths at a summer camp was a fellow countryman.

“Everyone thought that he was a Muslim, a Pakistani, or someone with dark skin,” says Titio-Maria Sesay, a teenager who lives in Oslo, “but he was Norwegian and he did this to his own people.”

In Oslo and throughout the nation, flags remained at half-mast in morning for the 92 so far confirmed dead. Despite the drizzling rain, crowds formed along the intersections leading to the bombed-out square where police said a powerful car bomb smashed windows and ignited fires in government buildings that included the prime minister's office. The explosion killed seven and wounded more than a dozen.

“At first, I thought it was thunder,” says Mina Bonful, another teen from Oslo who felt the bomb rock her home. “I’m still shocked.”

Passersby craned their necks to get a better view of the damage from behind lines of police tape. Many photographed cleanup crews or soldiers guarding the entrances with cameras on their mobile telephones. Mounds of flowers stacked up along the sidewalks where candles flickered and hand-held flags fluttered in the wind.

Police arrested 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik of Oslo on the island of Utoya in connection with the deadly bombing and shooting. Investigators allege Mr. Breivik detonated the car bomb and then drove to Utoya and opened fire on teenagers attending a camp there organized by the ruling Norwegian Labor party.

Breivik remained in police custody and was expected to appear in court on Monday. Police have not detailed any motive yet for the two crimes and said they are offering grief counseling to survivors.

Though the bombing jolted Oslo, emotions are particularly raw over the camp shooting since many of the victims are believed to have been in their teens. Addressing the nation this morning, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who was due to visit the camp today, called the shooting spree a “nightmare.”

“I should have been at Utoya to meet these young people. Many of them are no longer alive,” he said. “For me, Utoya is the paradise of my youth that yesterday turned into hell.”

Many in Oslo echoed the prime minister’s sense of bewilderment and pain.

“It’s just unbelievable that such a thing can happen here in Norway,” says Tove-Anita Slyngstad as she stood by police tape cordoning off the site of the explosion. She lives just outside the capital. “The attack here in Oslo, maybe that could have be expected, but not what’s happened on the island. That’s just terrible.”

One of Ms. Sesay's friends was attending the camp but survived. She said the girl is now recovering in the psychiatry ward of a hospital. Ms. Bonful also had two friends attending the camp who survived, but says she has not spoken to them since the shooting.

Just a few blocks south of the blast site, a steady stream of visitors entered the Oslo Cathedral, lighting votive candles and saying prayers in the pews.

The 17th-century church opened early and was to remain open to the public until late into the evening, officials said.

“The church is always open to the public everyday but today is, of course, very special after the two catastrophes,” says Karl Gervin, a senior pastor at the church.

Mr. Gervin said some victims of the bombing and shooting spree had come to pay their respects to the 92 confirmed dead so far and that a memorial service was scheduled for Sunday.

“We have had people who were wounded when the government buildings were destroyed. We have had quite a few youths from the Labor party youth camp,” he said. “We are here if people want to talk.”

Norway’s King Harald V expressed his own condolences and is expected to attend tomorrow’s memorial service with other members of the royal family at the Oslo Cathedral. He urged people not to kowtow to fear following the twin attacks.

“Now it’s important that we stand together and support each other, and that we don’t let fear take over,” he said.

Since police are withholding the names of the dead until all are accounted for, Gervin said family members and friends have been in anguish waiting for news.

He noted especially that those killed at the youth camp hailed from across the country of 5 million.

“That means that there can’t not be many communities that are not touched by this,” he says. “And since the names have not yet been released, many people are worried all over Norway.”

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