Prime Minister Erna Solberg, top political colleagues and survivors of Norway’s own terrorist attacks in 2011 were quick to express sympathy and support for the people of New Zealand on Friday. Norwegian prison officials, meanwhile, discounted a claim by the man who gunned down scores of worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch that he’d been in contact with Norwegian terrorist and mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik.
“We do everything we can to hinder inmates who are held under high security from having any contact with the outside world,” Ole Kristoffer Borhaug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Borhaug is leader of the Telemark Prison in Skien where Breivik is serving what’s likely to be a life sentence.
Borhaug stressed that prison officials control all communication in and out of the prison, while inmates also have limited telephone contact. They have no Internet access and mail to inmates is read and checked before any of it is passed on.
Breivik’s own defense attorney, Øystein Storrvik, also strongly doubted the New Zealand terrorist’s claim of contact with Breivik. “Given the impression I have, the contact I have with him and what I know about the security around him, I view any contact as highly improbable,” Storrvik told NRK.
Storrvik said Breivik is only allowed contact with professionals who visit him in connection with their jobs. He’s been held in specially built three-room cells both at the prison in Skien and at Ila Prison just outside Oslo, under Norway’s highest security regime.
The attacks on two mosques in the picturesque city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island are believed to have been led by an Australian citizen described as a violent right-wing extremist. A video posted on social media allegedly shows the man shooting victims while he’s filming.
Like Breivik, he also allegedly posted a so-called “manifesto” in which he expresses support for ethnic and cultural genocide. He mentions Breivik, claims to have been inspired by him and to have had contact with him. Breivik admitted to and was convicted of bombing Norway’s government headquarters and then gunning down young members of Norway’s Labour Party at their summer camp on the island of Utøya on July 22, 2011. A total of 77 people were killed in the attacks, 69 of them of Utøya.
The New Zealand attacks left at least 49 people dead as of Friday afternoon. Another 48 were wounded, according to New Zealand media. Three people have been arrested in addition to the man in his late 20s who’s charged with the murders.
Norwegians woke up Friday to news of the massacres in New Zealand, and reaction was swift. Prime Minister Solberg said on national radio that the attacks are “a reminder that we must fight extremism in all its forms.” She readily acknowledged that the New Zealand attacks could be “associated with the situation in our country,” without mentioning Breivik’s name.
Solberg’s predecessor Jens Stoltenberg, who now heads NATO, was also quick to send his condolences and support to New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. He could readily empathize with her situation as she must lead her country through crisis. Stoltenberg’s Labour Party government at the time was the target of the attacks in Norway, because Breivik believed Labour had allowed too many immigrants into the country.
Jonas Gahr Støre, who served as Stoltenberg’s foreign minister and now leads Labour in Norway, offered to share with Ardern his party’s experience in dealing with the attacks, and how Norway sought to recover from them. Several survivors of the massacre on Utøya were also offering similar support on national radio Friday, and advising shocked New Zealand residents to respond with solidarity instead of more hate or a desire for revenge.
Solberg stressed that the attacks in New Zealand show “how important it is to address tensions, fight extremism in all its forms and unite in solidarity.” She noted how the attacks in Norway, like those in New Zealand, were “one of the worst points in our time,” and show “how international efforts against extremism are so important.”