Police in Oslo were re-arming themselves on Tuesday in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels. King Harald was among those extending condolences to his royal counterpart in Belgium, while Foreign Minister Børge Brende urged Norwegians and Europeans to “stand together.”
Police officials, who report to government officials in the Justice Ministry, issued a press release at mid-day declaring that all police on patrol in Oslo would resume carrying weapons, at least on another temporary basis. Police patrols themselves would be increased “in certain areas” of the Norwegian capital, “to create security.”
The police stressed they had no information about any concrete threats against Norway. The bomb blasts at Brussels’ international airport and against the city’s metro system, however, clearly have shaken Norwegian authorities, and led to a heightening of security measures.
King Harald, currently on Easter holiday at the royal family’s mountain cabin at Sikkilsdalen, sent a message of condolence to King Filip of Belgium after the attacks in Brussels Tuesday morning. By mid-day, the death told had risen to more than 40, with scores of others injured.
“I have with great sorrow received the news of the gruesome attacks in Brussels today, which resulted in many killed and injured,” King Harald wrote. As of early afternoon, the official death count was set at 34, with 14 killed in the bombing at the airport and 20 in the bombings on the city’s metro system.
“This tragedy in the heart of Europe reminds us once again about the importance of preserving our central democratic values,” King Harald added in his message to Belgium’s King Filip. “On behalf of myself and the Norwegian people, I send Your Majesty my deepest condolences, and I ask you to forward my condolences and deep sympathy to the survivors and to the Belgian people.”
Easter stillness shattered
This was supposed to be Norway’s and most of Europe’s so-called stilleuke, a quiet week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday when many take off on a spring holiday. The explosions in Brussels shattered the stillness and were reverberating across the continent and in Scandinavia, as officials launched into crisis mode and scrambled to get an overview of the extent of casualties and injured.
Brende, Norway’s foreign minister, reported that there were no reports of Norwegians killed or injured in the attacks, at least not as of midday. Brende condemned the attacks in a city that plays such a major role in the daily lives of so many Europeans and Scandinavians. “This is the capital of Europe,” Brende stated, noting the importance of Brussels’ democracy. “We must now stand together,” he urged, at a time when Europe has been struggling to remain united in the midst of economic crisis and the refugee influx.
Jens Stoltenberg, the former Norwegian prime minister who’s now the secretary general of Brussels-based NATO, stated that he was “deeply saddened by the attacks here in Brussels this morning.” He called the heavy human toll “tragic,” and said his thoughts were “with those who have lost their loved ones, with all those affected, and with the people of Belgium.”
He took up Brende’s call, stating that “we all stand together with our Ally Belgium on this dark day.” Stoltenberg also called the attacks “cowardly.” As prime minister in Norway, Stoltenberg led the nation through the bombing and massacre of July 22, 2011 and he used phrases on Tuesday that he used then as well, calling the bombings in Brussels “an attack on our values and on our open societies.” He claimed the terrorism “will not defeat democracy and take away our freedoms.”
Stoltenberg added that NATO officials had increased “the alert state at NATO Headquarters. We remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation closely.”
‘Terrible’ situation in Brussels
Norway’s ambassador to the EU, Oda Helen Sletnes, was among many expressing shock over the attacks. She described the situation in Brussels Tuesday as “terrible,” adding that there were around 35 people at the office on Tuesday, while others were staying at home. All public transport systems in Brussels were shut down and train stations were closed.
Norway’s foreign ministry urged any Norwegians in Brussels to “stay calm,” remain where they were and follow local news and advice from public authorities. “If you’re in Brussels, please contact your families at home,” the ministry stated on its website. People were also urged to use social media, so as not to overburden the local phone systems.
The Norwegian Seamens Church in Brussels was holding an “open house” and offering to take in anyone stranded or needing assistance. Church officials also offered transport to those needing it.
Security measures were heightened in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain and Denmark, with added police on patrol at all airports and trains stations. Norway’s gateway airport, OSL Gardermoen, was also “evaluating” new security measures, according to a spokesman. All flights to Brussels were cancelled through to at least 6am Wednesday, but OSL officials said other airline traffic was proceeding mostly as normal.