The following summary account of the Oslo and Utøya terror attacks is adapted from the presentation by Norwegian journalist Kjetil Stormark, author of When Terror Hit Norway: 189 Minutes That Shocked the World and Private E-Mails of a Mass Murderer. The latter book contains a selection of messages sent from Anders Behring Breivik’s e-mail accounts before the attacks and additional messages expressing both support and condemnation that were sent to him shortly after his arrest. The former, as Stormark told the ACIA meeting, “is a timeline account based on more than 120 in-depth interviews with everyone from the staff surrounding the study of the prime minister to the people struggling for their lives at Utøya, and telling the tale of what happened through the eyes of those individuals.” It also tells what Stormark calls “the hidden story about what actually went wrong in the Norwegian emergency response on that particular day.”
Stormark, parenthetically, was in New York, as press counselor for Norway’s United Nations delegation, at the time of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
July 22, 2011, the day of the Oslo bombing and the Utøya shootings, was Norway‘s “most dramatic day since the German invasion on the 9th of April, 1940,” Stormark told his audience.
Utøya, a 24-mile drive from central Oslo, has been owned for many years by the Labour Party’s youth organization, known as AUF from its Norwegian initials. The day there began, Stormark recounted, with a visit from former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland:
She came to talk to the young politicians about her life and the development of European politics throughout her lifetime. She began by describing the growth of fascism in the 1930s and start of World War II.* At the police operation center at Hønefoss, 12 miles from the island, a single duty commander, Lill Heidi Tinholt, is present. She is responsible for commanding a handful of police officers covering a vast geographic area.
*At his trial, Breivik testified that he had planned to capture and behead Brundtland, but she had left the island by the time he arrived.
In downtownOslo, as is normal inNorwayon Friday in vacation period, it was quiet and relaxed. In the government buildings people were either on vacation, already out of the office or preparing to leave from work.
A few minutes after 3 o’clock in the afternoon a white Volkswagen Crafter turns left into Grubbegata, the road leading up to the prime minister’s office and other government buildings. At 3:16 p.m. the car turns left once again and parks just outside the main entrance of the prime minister’s office and department of justice. People are walking through the opposite square, which is named after Einar Gerhardsen, who was the prime minister ofNorwayafter World War II. People have no clue about what is about to happen. A man in what seems to be a police or watchman uniform exits the car. He starts walking up Grubbegata at a rapid pace. He has a helmet on, and in his right hand, he carries a handgun, a Glock 34.
At 3:25 a bomb in the Crafter explodes. The detonation sends out an intense shockwave, breaking windows in a large area in downtownOslo. Smoke and dust are soon visible from a long distance and there is a lot of confusion about where the detonations actually happened. Small pieces of paper start falling down from the sky just as happened on 9/11 inNew York. The first emergency responders must come from different fire stations inOslobecause the main fire station is located just next to the government building and they were unable to get fire trucks out of the building because of the explosion.
The terror of 22 July is not finished. The true horror is yet to come because while they are trying to save lives at the government buildings, Breivik is driving to Utøya
Shortly before 5 p.m., Breivik reached the ferry landing opposite Utøya. Still wearing his police uniform, he boarded the ferry M.S. Thorbjørn, telling the dock crew that he was a police officer coming to secure the island in the aftermath of the explosion in Oslo. He landed on Utøya at 5:18. Minutes later, on the lawn outside the island’s main building, he shot Monica Elisabeth Bøsei, the camp manager, and Trond Berntsen, an off-duty police officer working there as a security guard.
The ferry captain, Jon Olsen, who was also Bøsei’s partner, made the first emergency call at 5:23 while running desperately to find his and Bøsei’s daughter, who was on the island tool (she survived the shooting).
[Olsen’s call] comes in to the emergency number for paramedics and ambulance services. They in turn contact the police commander at Hønefoss, so she can directly talk to the caller for a three-way conversation. The message was chilling: a cop or a person disguised as a cop is shooting innocent teenagers.
Two or three minutes after the call, the first police unit is dispatched from Hønefoss. It takes them 20 minutes to drive to the ferry landing opposite
they immediately hear gunfire. “Gunshots fired on the island, gunshots fired on the island,” the police officer reports back to his commander. They are instructed to observe and wait for the police boat.
By now it is approaching 6 p.m., more than a half hour after the killings began. More police arrive at the landing and when the police boat arrives, so many of them try to crowd aboard that water sloshing into the overloaded craft stalls out the motor. Police finally reach the island in two private boats at 6:25, more than an hour after Breivik. In the meantime, Breivik has walked up the hill to the building housing the dining hall, where several hundred people are gathered and have just been told about the bombing in Oslo.
He kills in total 30 people inside the café building, seven of them in a very small room. Then he exits the cafe building and starts walking down into the tent camp area. Here 10 people are killed, immediately followed by five others trying to hide along the shoreline. After that, he starts walking down to the south part of the island. From there he goes back to the cafe building.
He has left his cell phone in his car and he goes back to the café to try to find a phone to call the police. His lawyer said that since he was willing to give up and give himself over to the police, he should get a reduced sentence, but in his manifesto he also states that it was a part of the strategy to delay the police response by creating a negotiation situation, so as to be able to achieve more time to fulfill his goals. So, it depends on how you analyze his actions.
After making the call to the police he starts killing again about 6:05 p.m.
Police finally arrive on the scene and after 75 minutes on the island Breivik is finally arrested. Sixty-nine are dead in addition to eight inOslo.
A timeline published in the 22 July Commission report shows that Breivik stopped shooting and did not kill anyone during approximately 20 minutes before he called police and offered to surrender. That interval, Stormark pointed out, has been “a crucial element in much of the criticism” that has been directed at the authorities for the slow response, since if the police had not taken so long to reach the island, they might have been able to save a significant number of victims who were shot after Breivik resumed killing following the phone call.
Breivik did not fire at police when they approached to arrest him:
When Breivik understood that the police had arrived at the scene, he walked to a tree and put down his semiautomatic rifle and then went to meet the police officers like this [arms outstretched] to show that he was unarmed. But, he had a vest on, an equipment vest that the police thought might be a bomb. So they came this close to putting a bullet in his head. But just before they did it they realized that it was an equipment vest with ammunition and not a bomb.
Turning to issues of preparedness and crisis management, Stormark said the response to the July 22 attack was nothing less than “a structural collapse of the Norwegian emergency response,” and asked: “Why do we accept that basically no one yet is held really accountable?”
It took more than three hours before the streets surrounding the prime minister’s home were sealed off. It took more than three hours before the parliament was properly secured, the exterior of the parliament. It took eight hours before security was increased at the Department of Defense, where the remaining national crisis management was situated, even though they actually expected another bomb attack, a secondary strike. The possible evacuation of the national leadership was never considered nor discussed, not even in the case of the dirty bomb that Breivik actually considered using and writes a lot about in his manifesto.
In 2005-2006, the Department of Justice was warned against locating the government’s crisis center on the ground floor of the building housing the prime minister’s office, because it was the most likely terror target. But they disregarded that advice.
It took hours for helicopters from the Norwegian defense and police to respond to the terror attacks. Norwayhad no helicopters on standby at all on 22 July. The FSK, the elite special forces, had to drive for more than three hours to get access to helicopters. Not even today inNorwayhave we situated helicopters together with the special force units, causing a longer response time.
In 2007, the police security service warned there was more than a 50 percent chance of a terror attack inNorwayin the next three to five years. But Grete Faremo, who was defense minister at the time of the Oslo and Utøya attacks, told the investigatory commission that she did not know about this at all, and she was a permanent member of the government security council.
It took days before anyone imposed access control to the government buildings where a lot of secret documents were floating around. Many police officers and military personnel did not have the necessary equipment, bulletproof vests, radio units, weapons, ammunition and more.
Some senior government officials, Stormark added, have privately referred to the events of July 22 as “a textbook example of how NOT to execute national crisis management.” While the multiple failures have been the subject of “huge discussion behind closed doors,” Stormark is not sure Norway has really faced the issue. “It seems,” he observed in the written version of his presentation,
that the perception before 22 July was thatNorwaywas such a small country, so it was unlikely terrorism would happen here. And now, sinceNorwayhas experienced terror, it is highly unlikely it will happen again. I have started wondering if the Norwegian people are basically afraid of confrontation. Are we in reality too afraid to take on the really tough discussions and decisions?