Unconfirmed reports were streaming in Friday evening that as many as 30 young members of the Norwegian Labour Party were gunned down and feared dead, victims of a suspected terrorist dressed as a police officer. The shootings began at the party’s annual summer camp on an island in the Tyri Fjord, just a few hours after the Norwegian capital was also struck by a massive and deadly explosion.
The drama began after the gunman reportedly arrived on the island known as Utøya in a high-speed rubber raft. He was dressed as a police officer and witnesses said he started gunning down campers, many of them teenagers, who were gathered along the water.
Bodies in the water
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) aired video taken from a helicopter of bodies floating in the water, and others desperately trying to swim from the island back to the mainland in an effort to escape the gunman. One man who tried to help rescue campers off the island in a small boat told NRK he saw as many as 25 to 30 dead, but police could not confirm any number of fatalities.
There were more than 600 members of Labour’s youth organization AUF on the island at the time. They were being evacuated Friday night and taken to nearby Sundvollen, where police set up an emergency center for victims and their families. The main E16 highway through the area, which runs between Oslo and Bergen, was closed. A long line of ambulances carried the wounded and dead to nearby hospitals.
The annual summer camp is viewed as a breeding grounds of sorts for future Labour Party leaders, attracting young and often ambitious future politicians. It also attracts current leaders of the party, known as Arbeiderpartiet (Ap) in Norwegian, and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was scheduled to visit the camp on Saturday. Former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland had been scheduled to visit the camp on Friday, but her status was unclear. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was at the camp on Wednesday.
Prime Minister deeply shaken
Stoltenberg, who escaped Friday’s bombing of ministries including his office in downtown Oslo, was clearly shaken by the reports of shootings at this party’s summer camp. He has taken part in the camp himself every summer since the early 1970s.
“It’s supposed to be a place for discussions, play, summer experiences,” he told NRK Friday evening, while being interviewed from a location undisclosed for security purposes.
“This is dramatic, it’s frightening, but we must not allow ourselves to be scared,” Stoltenberg said. “We stand for an open society, and open democracy in Norway, and violence like this can’t scare us.”
He said that Friday’s apparently parallel attacks, both in downtown Oslo and on Utøya, “puts our system to the test,” but he remained confident the country’s emergency response would meet the challenge.
Asked whether he thought the attacks were an attack on Labour, he declined to give a straight answer, saying instead that “it’s very worrisome.” Stoltenberg was meeting in emergency session with his fellow government ministers, many of whom were on Norway’s traditional July summer holidays when the attacks began. Stoltenberg said he also had received many condolences from other heads of state, including a message of support and sympathy from the US.
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