Saturday, July 23, 2011

Norway shooting at teen and preteen camp

OSLO, Norway - A suspected right-wing Christian gunman in police uniform killed at least 85 people in a ferocious attack on a youth summer camp of Norway's ruling Labour party, hours after a car bomb killed seven in Oslo.

Police said the suspect immediately surrendered when told to do so and has confessed, Reuters reported.

Witnesses said the gunman, identified by police as a 32-year-old Norwegian, moved across the small, wooded Utoya holiday island on Friday firing at random as young people scattered in fear.

Police detained the tall, blond suspect, named by local media as Anders Behring Breivik, and charged him for the island killing spree and the Oslo bomb blast.

Norwegian police would neither confirm nor deny if the killer acted alone, but were looking into reports of a second suspect.

Norway's national news agency, NTB, reported Saturday that witnesses told police two people were involved in the shooting on the island, which lasted for about 90 minutes.

At the time of the massacre, hundreds of children were on the island, aged from 11 or 12 to 18 or 19.

National police Chief Oystein Maeland said the attack had reached "catastrophic dimensions."

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, capturing the shock the attacks have caused in this normally quiet nation of 4.8 million, said he had been to the island every summer since 1979, saying "my youth paradise, and now it's been changed to hell," according to a simultaneous translation provided by Sky News.

Deputy Police Chief Roger Andresen would not speculate on the man's motives but told a news conference: "He describes himself as a Christian, leaning toward right-wing Christianity, on his Facebook page."

"As of now we have 84 dead at Utoeya," Andresen said. "In Oslo, with the explosion and the impact it had, we are not yet sure if that number is final. At Utoeya, the water is still being searched for more victims."

On Saturday, Stoltenberg, Norway's King Harald, Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon arrived at a hotel where survivors and family members are staying to attempt to comfort them.

After meeting survivors, Stoltenberg said Norwegian officials were working with foreign intelligence agencies to see if there there was any international involvement in attacks.

He said part of the police inquiry into what happened "is obviously to ... investigate whether there are any international connections.''

Witnesses described how teenagers at the lakeside camp fled screaming in panic when the attack began Friday, many leaping into the water to save themselves, as the assailant began spraying them with gunfire.

'Please no, please no'
Adrian Pracon, on official at the youth camp, gave an terrifying account to BBC News, describing how people were shot dead around him and he only survived by playing dead.

Pracon, speaking from his hospital bed, said when he first began to hear shooting, he thought it must be some kind of drill. Then he saw people he worked with trying to flee the gunman.

"As they were running, they were shot from behind, falling just in front of me," Pracon said.

He and a group of people then ran into the water and started swimming.

"I was the last man hitting the water and therefore I didn't have time to take my shoes and clothes off," Pracon told the BBC. "I had to return because the boots and clothes were pulling me under."

As he returned, the gunman was on the shore and Pracon thought he was about to die. "He saw me returning, he saw I was almost at the shore and pointed the barrel at me. At that time I yelled and cried 'Please no, please no.'"

Pracon told the BBC that for some reason the gunman "spared my life."

He said he lay down on the shore among a number of dead bodies and tried to play dead.

"Then there approached 10 people. He started shooting at every single person, they were crying, they were screaming, people were falling over me. These were my friends," Pracon told the BBC. "While I was playing [dead], I had to shield myself with people. By playing dead, I believed I saved my own life."

Pracon said he was shot in the back at close range by the gunman. "I didn't look up to see him ... but I could feel the warm air from the barrel. My left ear had an injury because of the blast when I got shot. It felt like someone hit me."

He told the BBC that he lay perfectly still and thought the gunman must have believed that he was dead.

Boy, 11, chased by gunman
Pracon, who was in hospital with what he described as a low-priority wound, said at one point during the killings, a boy aged about 11 ran up to him. "He said his dad was just shot and now the gunman is after him," he said.

Another survivor, Emilie Bersaas, told Sky News she heard gunshots, fled to nearby building and hid under a bed.

"The shooting came from all different directions," she said. "It was very terrifying. At one point the shooting was very, very close to the building — I think it actually hit the building one time."

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Survivor Jorgen Benone spoke of "total chaos" on the island.

"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," he said.

"I saw some boats but I wasn't sure if I could trust them. I didn't know who I could trust any more," he added. "I think several lost their lives as they tried to get over to the mainland."

Anita Lien, 42, who lives by Tyrifjord lake, a few hundred yards from Utoeya, said she saw about 50 people swimming toward the shore from the island.

"People were crying, shaking, they were terrified," said "They were so young, between 14 and 19 years old."

Others sought shelter in buildings as shots echoed across the island that was hosting the annual camp for the youth wing of the Labour Party, the dominant force in politics since World War Two. Others fled into the woods or tried to swim to safety.

Boats searched for survivors into the night, searchlights sweeping the coast. Rescue helicopters flew overhead.

'A national tragedy'
Stoltenberg said he knew many of the victims personally. "I know the young people and I know their parents," he said.

"And what hurts more is that this place where I have been every summer since 1979, and where I have experienced joy, commitment and security, has been hit by brutal violence," he added.

"What happened at Utoeya is a national tragedy," he said of the small wooded holiday island where the gunman ran amok. "Not since World War Two has our country seen a greater crime."

A camp guard, Simen Braenden Mortensen, said that the gunman had tricked his way onto the island by posing as a policeman driving a silver grey car.

"He gets out of the car and shows ID, says he's sent there to check security, that that is purely routine in connection with the terror attack (in Oslo)," Mortensen told the daily Verdens Gang.

"It all looks fine, and a boat is called and it carries him over to Utoya. A few minutes passed, then we heard shots," he said.

Bjorn Jarle Rodberg Larsen, a member of the Hedmark County Council of Labor, told Nettavisen that colleagues on the scene said the man walked in Friday afternoon shortly after the bombing.

"He was in a police uniform and said he was part of the increased security," Larsen said, quoting the eyewitnesses. "A little after he arrived, he took out a gun and began shooting."

At a news conference Friday night, police said the gunman was not connected to the police and "has no relation to us."

The bomb, which shook Oslo's centre in mid-afternoon, blew out the windows of the prime minister's building and damaged the finance and oil ministry buildings.

In Oslo, police confirmed at least seven dead in the bomb blast. At least 10 injured people were admitted to Oslo University Hospital, a hospital spokesman told Reuters.

Police also found undetonated explosives on Utoeya, a pine-clad island about 500 yards long.

With police advising people to evacuate central Oslo, and some soldiers taking up positions on the streets, the usually sleepy capital was gripped by fear of fresh attacks. Streets were strewn with shattered masonry, glass and twisted steel.

Right-wing militancy has generated sporadic attacks in other countries, including the United States. In 1995, 168 people were killed when Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City.

The Oslo district attacked is the very heart of power in Norway. Nevertheless, security is not tight in a country unused to such violence and better known for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize and mediating in conflicts, including the Middle East and Sri Lanka.

One witness in Oslo, who spoke to the BBC and was identified only as Ella, said, "We are the good guys; stuff like this doesn't happen to us."

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