UPDATED: France’s embassy in Oslo welcomed hundreds of local residents to the home of the new French ambassador to Norway on Thursday, to celebrate the country’s national day. On Friday morning, security was being tighened and the embassy was already receiving poignant messages of condolence after a deadly ending to festivities in Nice Thursday night. Norwegian officials condemned the latest attack on France and urged more inter-governmental cooperation against terrorism in Europe.
“This is just terrible and we condemn this attack in the strongest of terms,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende stated on national radio Friday morning, as Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) ran constant reports from Nice on both its two major channels along with live TV coverage. Norwegians have strong professional and personal ties to France, many are currently on holiday in the area and were relating their own horrifying eyewitness reports of how they saw people being run over and killed by a large truck as it drove down Nice’s famed beach promenade.
“I saw how the driver of the truck stepped on the gas,” Petter Ødegaard, a 23-year-old Norwegian tourist in Nice, told NRK. “People were dragged under its wheels and kept lying there. It all seemed unreal. When I heard shots I just started running.”
By 9am on Friday, the death toll had risen to 84, with dozens more injured, many of them critically. Several of those killed were children. French police have confirmed that the driver of the truck, a French-Tunisian who lived in Nice, emerged from its cab and then started shooting, after first running over crowds out watching Bastille Day fireworks along a two-kilometer stretch of beachfront. He was then shot himself, by police on the scene.
For Ødegaard and many more like him, a summer holiday in France turned into a nightmare. He headed back to his hotel room and called his family in Askim to report that he was safe. He also ordered an airline ticket home on Friday.
Morten Skauge, a senior adviser for Norway’s Conservative Party who also is on holiday in Nice, said he and his family were sitting in a restaurant adjacent to the promenade when the truck rolled by. “There was panic, people were screaming, people started running,” Skauge told NRK. “They yelled that we had to get away so we ran to the beach. It was a terrible experience for us with two small children. We all went from the greatest joy to the worst nightmare.”
Foreign ministry staff in Oslo and at Norway’s embassy in Paris had no reports of Norwegians among the dead or wounded as of Friday morning, but authorities on the scene were still in the process of identifying victims and those injured. Ane Lunde of the ministry, which was fielding phone calls from worried Norwegians with family currently in Nice, said it was “too early” to draw any conclusions. The ministry was urging Norwegians on holiday in southern France to call home and report their condition and whereabouts.
Foreign Minister Brende, currently in Mongolia for a European-Asian “dialog forum” with many other leaders including Donald Tusk from the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said they were all “standing together” as the news came in from France. “I have spoken with the French foreign minister and offered our condolences,” Brende said, adding that Europe and especially France are extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
“When they use trucks and knives we’re more defenseless,” Brende said. “It confirms how important it is that we stand together and exchange information from intelligence gathering.”
He said the attack cast a pall over the meeting in Ulan Bator and that French Foreign Minister Jean-Marjc Ayrault had already traveled home to France to take part in more memorials after suffering the third major terrorist attack in less than two years.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was also on national radio and TV Friday morning, offering condolences and condemning the latest attack. After welcoming a broad mix of diplomats, Norwegian officials, cultural personalities, journalists, resident French citizens and even French Boy Scouts to their ambassador’s residence for a three-hour outdoor celebration on Thursday, embassy staff were already being revisited by Oslo residents Friday morning keen to offer their support and condolences. Norwegians had done the same after the attacks in Paris last November. Those attacks had prompted tears from Solberg, who got married in Paris and has often said she has an important place in her heart for France.
Guests at the residence of Ambassador Jean-Francois Dobelle went through security and ID control on arrival Thursday, and Dobelle told NRK on Friday that security was being tightened further, both at the embassy, the residence, the French Cultural Institute in Oslo and the French School. The embassy laid out a condolence protocol Friday, lowered the flag to half-mast and Dobelle expressed gratitude for the support France was receiving from Norwegians.
“It’s deeply disturbing, what we’re experiencing now,” Norway’s foreign minister Brende said. “Today we’re thinking first and foremost about the victims. We’re thinking also about what it is that compels people to commit this type of atrocity.”