Embassy ‘regrets the disruptions’

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The US Embassy in Oslo issued a brief statement Tuesday night in which officials regretted setting off a bomb scare earlier in the day that paralyzed a large area of the Norwegian capital. The statement did not address what local police have called the “human error” behind what turned out to be a false alarm, and instead defended the embassy’s need to respond to “any potential threat.”

The US Embassy's statement noted that the embassy had "resumed normal operations" after Tuesday's "security incident." PHOTO: Views and News

The statement noted how embassy security officials had “identified a suspicious device” in an embassy-owned vehicle “and took appropriate precautions.” The embassy stressed that security personnel “handled this incident in accordance with standard procedures and alerted local emergency services.”

Oslo police responded with all available personnel, also from the fire department, ambulance services and even the king’s guards at the Royal Palace. They evacuated a large area around embassy, blocked off all nearby streets and shut down tram and metro lines through the heart of downtown.

Two hours later, police could report that the “suspicious device” turned out to be what the embassy itself described as “a non-threatening training device previously used in an exercise.” Norwegian police described it as an øvelsesbombe,  a practice device meant to look like a bomb and used in anti-terror exercises.

Barry White, the US' ambassador to Norway, also apologized over the phone to the staff chief of police in Oslo. PHOTO: US Embassy

Embassy personnel had simply forgotten to remove the device from the embassy car after its use in an exercise, causing the embassy’s own security staff to believe it was a bomb and setting off the alarms. Johan Fredriksen, staff chief of the Oslo Police District, said the entire emergency response was thus a result of menneskelig svikt (human error).

The embassy did not admit that in its statement, writing only that “The Embassy regrets the disruptions caused by this incident,” and adding: “The security of Embassy staff, visitors and neighbours requires that we take any potential threat seriously and respond immediately.”

Fredriksen confirmed on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s nightly national news program Dagsrevyen Tuesday evening that US Ambassador Barry White also had called him, admitted that the embassy itself had caused the incident and apologized. Other police officials noted that the incident “must be embarrassing for the Americans,” but agreed it’s important to take any threats seriously.

The police, who face a state commission’s report later this month that was ordered because of criticism over their response to last year’s terrorist attacks, seemed satisfied over their response this time to the embassy alarm. They may feel vindicated as well, since embassy officials earlier have criticized Norwegian preparedness for terrorists attacks.

Such criticism from the US Embassy may now be quelled, and Tuesday night’s statement expressed the embassy’s “appreciation for the extremely quick and professional response by Norwegian emergency services personnel.”

Fredriksen told newspaper Dagsavisen that Oslo police will have “a dialogue” with embassy personnel, in an effort to prevent false alarms from occurring again. City government leader Stian Berger Røsland, meanwhile, has said he also expects an apology from the embassy, along with an offer of compensation to the city.

Response to Røsland’s request is mixed, with some Members of Parliament agreeing that false alarms must be prevented but also that, as MP Per Sandberg told Dagsavisen,  “it’s better to ring the alarm one time too often than one time too little.” Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang felt much the same, adding that it was most important that Oslo is well-prepared for emergencies, while a Justice Ministry spokesman said that Norway “has no tradition for demanding compensation or an apology from folks who warn of a threat or an accident.” Police officials also indicated they simply did their job with personnel who already were on duty.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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