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Norway Rocked By Simultaneous Deadly Explosion And Gun Rampage

July 22, 2011

A huge explosion in the Norwegian capital of Oslo has killed at least seven people in an attack that police attributed to one or more car bombs and believe is related to a gunman's attack at a youth camp outside the city.

Norwegian army troops have taken up positions around central Oslo and police have urged people to stay out of the city center.

The epicenter of the explosion was a 20-story office building that housed the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his administration, as well as the Norwegian oil and finance ministries.

Video of the scene broadcast on NRK showed most of the windows of the building had been blown out. The bottom floor appeared to be completely gutted. Shattered glass and debris littered a square in front of the building.

Stoltenberg was working at home at the time of the blast, around 3:30 local time, and was not injured. In remarks to public television, he said the attack was "very serious" but that it was too early to say if the explosion was the work of terrorists. He has called a crisis meeting of his Labor Party government tonight.

Oslo police said the explosion was caused by "one or more" bombs, but declined to speculate on who was behind the attack. No group has claimed responsibility.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang spoke to CNN by telephone, "[The police have] confirmed that it's been a bomb, but they're not, of course, sure if it's terrorism or what it is, but it's a terrible situation."

As smoke from the explosion billowed over the street, people evacuated office buildings with shattered windows. Some needed assistance to walk and others had bloody head wounds. Broadcast video showed crowds running down the street through a twisted debris field.

Public broadcaster NRK showed video of a blackened car lying on its side amid the wreckage.

Subsequent Shooting Incident

As police were still sealing off central Oslo and increasing security around the city, a gunman opened fire at a Labor Party youth camp on an island outside the city.

Police have confirmed the deaths of up to 10 people and several wounded, but said the toll was not yet "definitive."

Acting Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim told broadcaster NRK that investigators suspect the Oslo explosion and camp shooting are linked.

Police Inspector Bjoern Erik Sem-Jacobsen said a suspect in the shooting was arrested. He said the gunman, who was dressed as a police officer, pulled out a gun and started firing into the crowd of youths.

A witness to the Oslo explosion told the AP that he was standing at a bus stop about 100 meters from the building that contained the prime minister's office when the attack occurred. Ole Tommy Pedersen described seeing almost all the windows shattering and smoke billowing out of the bottom floors.

An American tourist named Nick Soubiea was nearby when the explosion hit and described what happened to CNN. "We were about 50 meters from where the explosion happened, and it was pretty unreal, it was like slow motion, it was just a big wave that almost knocked us off our chairs. And there was just a big black smoke in the air. And everybody just stood still and had no idea what was going on, and it was extremely frightening."

The offices of Norway's largest newspaper, "Verdens Gang," were also damaged in the blast. At one point, police sealed off the offices of broadcaster TV 2 after discovering a suspicious package.

U.S., EU, And NATO Condemn Attack

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman condemned the attack as "despicable" and President Barack Obama said the United States was standing by to provide support to Norway.

He offered his "condolences to the people of Norway," and called the attack "a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring, and that we have to work cooperatively together both on intelligence and in terms of prevention of these kinds of horrible attacks."

In 2010, the Oslo daily newspaper "Dagbladet" published a cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammad as a pig writing the Quran. In response, around 2,500 people held a street protest to call for a boycott of the newspaper.

Authorities in Denmark say they have foiled several terror plots linked to the 2005 newspaper publication of similar cartoons, which triggered violent protests in Muslim countries.

Last week, a Norwegian prosecutor filed terror charges against an Iraqi-born cleric for threatening Norwegian politicians with death if he is deported from the country. Mullah Krekar, who founded the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, made the statements to several media outlets, including America's NBC television network.

Norway has also worked to contain several home-grown terror plots linked to Al-Qaeda.

Norway has around 500 troops serving in Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and is also participating in the NATO mission to drive Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi from power.

The European Union and NATO both condemned the attack, with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calling it "heinous act."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed his "utmost shock" and said an attack of this magnitude was not "something one would expect in Norway, famously associated with peace at home and peacemaking abroad."

compiled from agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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