Alexandra Bech Gjørv isn’t one to shy away from challenging assignments, but the one she accepted after last summer’s terrorist attacks ranks among the toughest. Gjørv agreed to head the July 22 Commission probing the emergency response to the attacks, and now the pressure is on.
Gjørv and her fellow commission members made the tough trip out to the island of Utøya on Tuesday, to see the scene of Norway’s worst-ever massacre and ask, as Gjørv put it, “a whole string of questions.” She said the members needed to see first-hand what the island was like, how and where victims fell to the gunman who carried out the massacre, and where he was when finally arrested by police. They wanted to know how and where the police finally arrived on the island, and follow in their footsteps.
The commission has already toured the scene of the bombing carried out by the terrorist just a few hours before he moved on to Utøya, the site of a summer camp for young members of the Labour Party. Tuesday’s trip was also the commission’s third formal meeting and they released some details of their program and methodology.
They’ll be dividing up their work in six projects:
*** Surveillance, the terror threat in Norway and the role of the police intelligence unit PST
*** Access to weapons, ammunition and dangerous chemicals
*** Security around the government complex and other critical infrastructure in Norway
*** The role of the authorities in fighting and coordinating against terrorist attacks and ensuring continuity of state control
*** Police and other agencies’ response to the attacks on the government complex and Utøya, including its coordination, with examination of raw data and the sequence of events
*** Response by health care and volunteers in the acute medical phase and the ongoing psycho-social response
Gjørv, a 46-year-old attorney with a career in industry, has been called “the woman everyone is waiting for,” and the program laid out on Tuesday indicates the commission’s work will take time. Some survivors and victims’ families have already been clamouring for answers and said they can’t wait for a year, which is what the preliminary time line has allowed.
This week’s two-day meeting also included a trip to the closest police station in Hønefoss and sessions at the Sundvollen Hotel, where survivors and victims’ families gathered right after the attacks. Gjørv said the work, not least the trip to Utøya, was difficult and left all commission members with a lot of impressions. Those killed, she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “suffered a terrible fate” and “just thinking about how they tried to find good hiding places” was difficult.
Gjørv, a partner in the Oslo law firm Hjort, previously was a high-ranking executive at both Norsk Hydro and Statoil. She’s also a board member of NRK and forest products firm Norske Skog. While at Hydro she managed to absolve the firm of any responsibility in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, which involved Hydro’s fertilizer products. Now she’s working with terrorism again, from a different perspective. She’s promised to produce what Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has asked for: “an honest and straightforward answer to what happened, what worked well and what didn’t work well.”
Gjørv is well aware of the criticism that’s emerged over the police response, and security measures before the attacks. NRK reported how she and her fellow members also wanted to bring the press along on their tour of the island Tuesday, to document their work. Leaders of Labour’s youth organization AUF, however, didn’t want the media to take more photos on the island, out of consideration for survivors and victims’ families. The commission disagreed and reportedly tried to convince AUF leaders to change their minds, but ultimately gave in and went to Utøya without the media.
Other members of the commission include Ragnar Auglend of Bergen, a former police chief for Hordaland and dean of the state police academy; Karin Straume of Vadsø, a doctor in Finnmark; Einar Enger of Rakkestad, former head of state railway NSB and dairy cooperative Tine; Laila Bokhari of Oslo, a political scientist and terror expert at research group NUPI; Lina Motrøen Paulsen of Stavanger, a vice president of the Red Cross; Torgeir Hagen of Hamar, former chief of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence unit; Guri Hjeltnes of Oslo, a journalist, historian and professor; Hanne Bech Hansen of Copenhagen, a former police director in Denmark; and Stefan Gerkman of Finland, a former police inspector.
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