Norwegian police have, for the first time, publicly apologized for their failure to quickly get to the scene of a confessed terrorist’s deadly massacre on the island of Utøya last summer. It took too long, they now admit, to subdue the gunman, allowing him to kill 69 persons before he was finally stopped.
“Every minute was one minute too long,” said state police director Øystein Mæland when his department’s own evaluation of the police response to the terrorist attacks of July 22 was released on Thursday. “It is a burden to know that lives could have been saved if the gunman had been arrested earlier.”
Families of many of those killed on Utøya, mostly young persons attending the Labour Party’s youth summer camp, had demanded an apology in advance. They’ve been troubled that both police and politicians have avoided placing blame or apologizing earlier for various blunders made as police scrambled to answer all the calls for help that fateful afternoon.
One father went on national TV Wednesday night, telling NRK’s Dagsrevyen that he’s convinced his son and more than a dozen others could have survived if police had used less than the hour it took for them to land on Utøya. An investigation already had established that his son was among the last to be shot, at around 6:15pm. Police arrested the gunman, Anders Behring Breivik, shortly thereafter.
“I apologize on behalf of the police that we were unsuccessful in capturing the gunman earlier,” Mæland said. “Could the police have arrived faster on Utøya? The answer is ‘yes.'”
Instead, local police opted to search for boats that could carry specially trained forces that they knew were on the way, instead of heading for the island themselves. “We know that the special forces have extra qualifications in acute, advanced first aid and bullet wounds that other police don’t have,” Mæland said at a press conference on Thursday. “And we know that they saved lives after the gunman was arrested. This shows that minutes were both lost and won, but I understand the questions, and the need for answers.”
He also noted that police could have arrived more quickly on Utøya if the boats that were commandeered hadn’t been overloaded and stalled in the water. “We can’t be sure that would have resulted n a better result, but we can’t rule it out,” he said.
Mæland, who reports to Norway’s Justice Minister, claimed the Norwegian police “were not dimensioned to handle” such attacks as those that occurred on July 22, when Norway’s government headquarters was bombed, followed by the massacre. Staffing was also especially low on that Friday in the middle of the national summer holiday period.
Olav Sønderland, a former police chief who headed the police’s internal investigation, said they had established fully 54 points where improvement is needed, including Norway’s system for sending out a national alarm. It malfunctioned on July 22. So did other systems for coordinating all the alarms that came in.
“July 22 has made a deep impression on Norway and on the Norwegian police,” Mæland said. “Our thoughts and our sympathy go to the survivors and the families of the victims who lost their loved ones in Oslo and on Utøya.” He also thanked “all the civilians and volunteers” who helped police and emergency crews, “all the police who did the best they could,” and the military, which “contributed important resources.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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