UPDATE: A powerful bomb exploded in downtown Oslo shortly before 3:30pm on Friday afternoon, causing extensive damage to government offices and scores of buildings in a wide radius. By early evening at least seven people were confirmed dead and 15 were hospitalized with injuries, some of them serious. The death toll was expected to rise.
Police said more bodies were discovered inside the building housing the Ministry of Health but numbers couldn’t be confirmed. They worried that more victims would be found as police investigators and technicians searched through the rubble.
Meanwhile, a shooting attack was underway about an hour outside of Oslo, at the annual summer camp for the youth organization of the Norwegian Labour Party, which currently leads Norway’s left-center government coalition. The camp, which opened Wednesday for a five-day run, is held on an island in the Tyri Fjord, and police said there was reason to believe the bombing in downtown Oslo and the shootings on the island known as Utøya were related. Around 10 persons were said to have been shot by 7pm and the drama was still going on.
Friday’s blast in downtown Oslo was so powerful that it spread debris over a large area, from the waterfront in front of City Hall, ironically where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year, east to the Grønland district. A large cloud of yellow smoke rose from the area seconds after the blast, which shook downtown buildings, and caused widespread panic in the streets. A shockwave made buildings sway and crushed windows all over Oslo.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) could report extensive damage to the buildings housing the Finance Ministry, the Oil & Energy Ministry, the Business and Trade Ministry and the high-rise atop of which is the Office of the Prime Minister. The burned-out wreckage of a car lay buried by large chunks of concrete, prompting speculation that the explosion came from a car parked in a central plaza encircled by the ministries.
The offices of VG, Norway’s largest newspaper, was also severely damaged and evacuated. It sits just across the street from the government complex on the street known as Akers Gata.
Shortly after 4pm, more smoke could be seen and a cloud smelling of explosive gas was hanging over the city. Curtains could be seen flying from broken windows in the main government highrise. Fearing more explosions, police were busy cordoning off a large part of downtown.
Buses helped carry injured, bleeding people out of the area. At Ullevål sykehus, Oslo’s main hospital, entire departments were being evacuated to clear space for victims of the blast.
Norwegian news bureau NTB reported that prime minister Jens Stoltenberg was safe in an undisclosed location and he later made a brief statement saying that it remained unclear who was behind the bombing or the shootings on Utøya. Several government ministers were also confirmed safe.
Stoltenberg reportedly had already met with key ministers and prepared for a meeting in the government’s security council later on Friday. Several government ministers were on the way back to Oslo, having interrupted their summer vacations. So had Oslo’s mayor Fabian Stang, declaring that “A terrible tragedy has struck our city.”
We’ll be following the story.
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