On July 22, Norway experienced a harrowing terrorist attack. A car bomb went off in Oslo, closely followed by a shooting rampage at a Labor Party youth camp. The death toll as of Friday evening was estimated to be at least 80 slain at the camp and 7 from the blast, but may rise as more bodies are found and lives are lost from injuries. It is unclear if Islamists were involved in the attacks, but Norway now undoubtedly knows the horrors that terrorism can bring.
Seven people have died so far from the car bombing in Oslo, which shattered most of the windows of the building where the Prime Minister works. Other offices belonging to the government and newspapers were also damaged. It was soon followed by a shooting at a Labor Party youth camp that was attended by 600 people, mostly teenagers as young as 15 years old. The attacker posed as a police officer sent to the camp after the Oslo bombing as an additional security measure. He was shot and arrested. A statement appeared on an online jihadist forum allegedly from the “Helpers of Global Jihad” declaring responsibility, but the group has since denied involvement.
The shooter has been identified as Anders Behring Breivik. He is a Norwegian, and he is described as being “tall, blonde and [of] Nordic looks.” This strongly points to a homegrown terrorist, though the overall plot may have an international component. He describes himself on his Facebook as a conservative Christian, and he has criticized Islam on Internet forums. He is said to be a nationalist.
Simultaneous attacks like these are the staple of the Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, but the arrest of Breivik is leading authorities to downplay an Islamist connection. One anonymous police official told the Associated Press that “it seems like that this is not linked to any international terrorist organizations at all” and “is probably more Norway’s Oklahoma City than it is Norway’s World Trade Center.” However, there are “no known domestic militant groups in Norway with the capability to stage large car bomb attacks.” The fact that Breivik did not choose to become a “martyr” does indicate a non-Islamist motivation. A key question will be how Breivik obtained the expertise and materials for the attacks, and whether Islamic extremists played some role despite their ideological differences.
Suspicion immediately fell on Mullah Krekar, who lives in Norway and is the founder of Ansar al-Islam, an Iraq-based group affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Less than two weeks ago, he was charged with making death threats, after he threatened Norwegian officials with death if he is deported in June 2010. Krekar has justified the 9⁄11 attacks and supports killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq and civilians who help them. He met with Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s, who he described as “a jewel in the crown of Islam.” In 2009, he voiced his desire for a Caliphate that Bin Laden would help lead.
Norway has around 500 soldiers serving in Afghanistan, and was threatened by Ayman al-Zawahiri as far back as 2003. If an Islamist role is found, the motivation will likely be the republishing of the Mohammed cartoons in Norway. Abu Yahya al-Libi, a top Al-Qaeda leader, called on Muslims to retaliate against Norway for the cartoons. In July 2010, three suspected Al-Qaeda operatives were arrested in Norway for planning to attack the Danish newspaper that originally published the cartoons mocking Mohammed.
Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, al-Shabaab, may be involved. A member of that group tried to murder the Danish artist who drew the cartoons, Kurt Westergaard, on January 1, 2010. In March, the first Norwegian recruit of al-Shabaab was killed in Somalia. It is believed that at least four other Norwegian-Somali youth have been recruited and joined al-Shabaab’s ranks in East Africa.
Cables released by WikiLeaks show that the U.S. has been worried about Norway’s complacency towards terrorism for years. The author of one file laments that Norway feels terrorist groups are “not a direct threat.” The U.S. ambassador wrote that the Norwegian authorities were unwilling to use their own resources to track a suspected Al-Qaeda cell, and rejected an offer by the U.K. to dispatch surveillance teams to assist them. Another 2009 memo said that the Norwegian security service is “in over its head.” Another document from 2007 warns that Norway “continues to feel immune from terrorism,” and isn’t paying enough attention to possible radicalization of its Pakistani community.
The attacks are the deadliest since the July 7, 2005 bombings in London that killed 52 people. They are also significant because of their sophistication. As terrorism expert Houriya Ahmed explains, “What is particularly concerning about this attack is that whoever is responsible has managed to manufacture and successfully detonate a massive bomb. That is something al-Qa’ida linked groups have had difficulty doing in Europe since the July 7 attacks in London.”
Al-Qaeda or another Islamist terrorist group may or may not be responsible. There should be no relaxation if these attacks are found to be the work of a single, non-Muslim, homegrown political extremist. If this is what can be done by a single individual, or even a small group, then it is scary to think of what will happen if an Islamic terrorist cell takes advantage of the same vulnerabilities.
Leave a Reply