Investigation: Norway police could have stopped Breivik sooner

Norwegian investigators blamed authorities for 'abrogation of responsibility,' but stopped short of blaming specific individuals.

Berit Roald/NTB scanpix/AP
Officials stand next to copies of the report from the independent commission into last year’s twin terror attacks that claimed 77 lives, in Oslo, Norway, Monday, Aug. 13, 2012.

A Norwegian government-appointed commission has sharply criticized local police and national security for not preventing or responding quickly enough to last year’s twin terror attacks that claimed 77 lives.

The 10-member commission revealed today in a 481-page report that the car bomb attack by Anders Behring Breivik on the government complex could have been prevented by “effective implementation of already adopted security measures” and that the police could have stopped Mr. Breivik sooner than it did during his shooting rampage on the island of Utøya.

The July 22 commission report blamed the “abrogation of responsibility” among the various government ministries in taking action on closing Grubbegata, the main street between the office of the prime minister and other major government buildings where Breivik parked his bomb-laden van prior to driving out to Utøya. A decision was taken as early as 2004 to close the street to traffic for security reasons.

The report also highlighted the numerous gaffes by the police that day in not apprehending Breivik. One example was the failure to announce a national emergency alarm early enough. Another problem that was cited was the lack of communication between the local police and the Armed Forces, which helped allow Breivik to shoot uninterrupted for more than one hour at the Labour Party’s youth summer camp on Utøya, killing 69.

No individuals blamed

However, the commission stopped short of contending that the Police Security Service could have averted the attacks or blaming specific individuals.

After the release of the report, some questioned whether Rigmor Aasrud, the minister of government administration who was responsible for closing Grubbegata, should be forced to resign, as well as the heads of the local police and National Police Directorate for their delayed response that day.

Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s prime minister, apologized for the shortcomings but dismissed the possibility of both Ms. Aasrud's as well as his own resignation.

“[The report] gives us the ability to understand what happened and act. I take responsibility, and it is the best I can do as prime minister,” Mr. Stoltenberg said during a joint press conference with Grete Faremo, Norway’s justice minister, after the release of the report. 

“Given [the size of] this thick report, I feel it would be wrong of me to talk about personal responsibility today,” added Mr. Faremo. 

Stoltenberg announced at the press conference that the government would propose a new white paper on preparedness in light of the commission’s conclusions. The commission has recommended 31 specific measures be implemented. One suggested change to the penal code would make it illegal to build up firepower with the intention of committing a felony. Another suggested change would ban semiautomatic weapons, like the Ruger rifle Breivik used that day. It also proposed numerous measures for the police, Armed Forces, public health service, rescue agencies, and security and intelligence services.

Stoltenberg said Norway planned to undertake measures as soon as possible. Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the parliamentary July 22 committee,  recommended that the government propose a white paper before April 2013, prior to national elections next September.

Breivik is currently in Skien prison awaiting sentencing, which is slated for Aug. 24. The judges will determine whether he is sane and criminally responsible based on terror charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 21 years.

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