Oslo Bomb Blast and Shooting Spree: Al Qaeda Suspected (Updated)

A bomb blast in Oslo's government center has killed at least two people and a presumably related shooting spree at a nearby children's camp are being investigated as terrorist related.

A bomb blast in Oslo’s government center that has killed at least two people and a presumably related shooting spree at a nearby children’s camp are being investigated as terrorist related.

Spiegel (“Violent Blast Rocks Government Quarter in Oslo“):

The center of the Norwegian capital Oslo was a scene of devastation on Friday afternoon following a violent explosion which killed at least two people and injured several. Police confimed that the blast was caused by “one or more” bombs and urged people to leave central Oslo.

The explosion blasted windows out of buildings in the city’s government quarter. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was safe, however, according to a government spokeswoman. The prime minister was not in the government building when the explosion happened.

“This is very serious,” Stoltenberg later told Norwegian TV2 television in a telephone call. He did not disclose his location, explaining that police has advised him against doing so, but said that all government ministers appeared to be safe. It was too early to say if the explosion was a terrorist attack, he said.

Several government buildings were damaged in the explosion, which happened at 3:26 p.m. local time and was heard for kilometers around. The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported chaos in the streets near the site and people covered in blood. “It smells like sulphur,” one reporter at the scene said.

It seemed likely that the death toll would continue to rise. One reporter was quoted on the Aftenposten website as saying, “I saw dead people.” Senior Norwegian government official Kristian Amundsen told the BBC that people were trapped in the buildings affected by the blast. The situation was the worst his country had seen, he said.

[…]

Several terror experts have speculated that the blast could be the work of terrorists. “It is difficult to imagine this not being a terror attack,” said Norwegian terror expert Tore Bjørgo. “This is Norway’s greatest symbol of political power.”

Norway has faced several homegrown terror plots in recent years linked to al-Qaida. Last week, an Islamist cleric in the country was charged for making death threats against Norwegian politicians should he be deported from the country. There are over 400 Norwegian troops currently stationed in Afghanistan as part of NATO operations there.

Al-Qaida has long warned of a revenge attack in Scandinavia ever since a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad over five years ago. In its propaganda, al-Qaida makes little distinction between the Scandinavian countries. There have been several attempted attacks against Muhammad caricaturists in Denmark. Last December, a suicide bomber with ties to radical Islamists blew himself up in the Swedish capital Stockholm, though nobody was injured in the explosion.

BBC (“Oslo: Bomb blast near Norway prime minister’s office“) adds:

Police later said shots were fired at a Labour Party youth meeting near Oslo. Unconfirmed reports carried by Norwegian media said a man dressed as a police officer had opened fire indiscriminately.

Television footage from the government quarter showed rubble and glass from shattered windows in the streets – smoke was rising from some buildings where fires were burning. The wreckage of at least one car was on one street.

All roads into the city centre have been closed, said national broadcaster NRK, and security officials evacuated people from the area, fearing another blast.

Mr Stoltenberg, in a telephone call to Norwegian television, said all government ministers were believed to be safe. He said he had been advised by police not to reveal his current location. “Even if one is well prepared, it is always rather dramatic when something like this happens,” he said.

[…]

State Secretary Kristian Amundsen said Friday was a public holiday in Norway so the offices were not as busy as they might usually have been. “But there are many hundreds of people in these buildings every day,” he told the BBC. “We have to focus on the rescue operation – there are still people in the building, there are still people in the hospital.”

Reuters said the oil ministry was among the other government buildings hit.

Oistein Mjarum, head of communications for the Norwegian Red Cross, said his offices were close to the site of the explosion. “There was a massive explosion which could be heard over the capital Oslo,” he told the BBC. “This is a very busy area on Friday afternoon and there was a lot of people in the streets, and many people working in these buildings that are now burning,” he said.

An NRK journalist, Ingunn Andersen, said the headquarters of tabloid newspaper VG had also been damaged. “I see that some windows of the VG building and the government headquarters have been broken. Some people covered with blood are lying in the street,” AP quoted her as saying.

The terrorist angle is simply speculative at this point but seems warranted. Elisa Mala and David Goodman for NYT (“Big Blasts at Government Buildings in Oslo“):

While Norway has seen little political violence in recent years, the country is a member of NATO alliance and has a small fighting contingent in Afghanistan. It was one of several countries cited by Ayman al-Zawahri, the Al Qaeda leader, as potential targets for attack. In 2006, Norwegian newspapers reprinted Danish cartoons that angered Muslims by lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. Norway has also historically been a frequent participant in peacekeeping missions and a host for diplomatic talks, including the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of the Norwegian parliament.

A Norwegian security analyst, who asked not to be named, said the country has historically been seen as at low risk from terrorism, but cautioned that the nature of the explosion was still not known.

Three Norwegian men were arrested in July 2010 on suspicion of terrorism and were said to be a terrorist “node” in a larger global network, American counterterrorism officials said at the time.

Reuters (“Bomb wrecks government offices in Oslo, two said dead“) has additional conjecture from analysts:

John Drake, senior risk consultant at London-based consultancy AKE, said: “It may not be too dissimilar to the terrorist attack in Stockholm in December which saw a car bomb and secondary explosion shortly after in the downtown area. That attack was later claimed as a reprisal for Sweden’s contribution to the efforts in Afghanistan.”

NATO member Norway has sometimes in the past been threatened by leaders of al Qaeda for its involvement in Afghanistan. It has also taken part in the NATO bombing of Libya, whose leader Muammar Gaddafi has threatened to strike back in Europe.

Political violence is virtually unknown in a country known for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize and mediating in conflicts, including in the Middle East and Sri Lanka.

David Lea, Western Europe analyst at Control Risks, said: “There certainly aren’t any domestic Norwegian terrorist groups although there have been some al Qaeda-linked arrests from time to time. They are in Afghanistan and were involved in Libya, but it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions.”

But not, of course, to speculate. That’s all we have in the early search for answers. And there’s good reason to speculate in the direction of al Qaeda, which is in need of a win after months of setbacks.

Update (Dave Schuler)

There are now some reports that a Kurdish group affiliated with Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Norway. From CBS News:

A group called “Helpers of Global Jihad” has taken responsibility for the bomb which ripped open buildings, including the prime minister’s office, in Norway’s capital, CBS News has learned.

It is apparently the same local shadowy extremist group that the Stockholm bomber in December 2010 had said he was connected to.

In the 2010 Stockholm blast, the bomb, in a backpack, went off prematurely and the bomber blew himself up. However, the bomber had left behind a video protesting the Afghanistan war and the killing of Muslims.

There is no confirmation that this group was indeed responsible. Investigators are also trying to determine if there are links to this jihadist group with the core al Qaeda organization. They are looking too to see if there may be a connection to three al Qaeda individuals recently arrested in Norway.

As the story says there is no official confirmation of this yet. This story is still breaking so we may yet get news that completely contradicts this.

UPDATE (James Joyner):  All indications are now that the youth camp shooter is a white, non-Muslim Norwegian. Police are, reasonably, operating on the assumption that the shooting spree and the car bomb are “linked.” So, the working assumption has shifted away from al Qaeda and other Islamist groups to either a lone wacko or some sort of Oklahoma City-type domestic conspiracy.

I took grief on Twitter this morning and early afternoon for being too cautious in not coming out and declaring “This Was The Work of Our Muslim Enemies.” It’s looking like, despite my relatively careful couching, that I was instead too forward-leaning.

Under the circumstances, it was perfectly reasonable to start with al Qaeda/Islamists/Jihadists as the working assumption. But every terrorist attack isn’t perpetrated by Muslims. There are plenty of other aggrieved maniacs out there willing to commit mass mayhem.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    But not, of course, to speculate. That’s all we have in the early search for answers. And there’s good reason to speculate in the direction of al Qaeda, which is in need of a win after months of setbacks.

    The gunman has been arrested and there is one rather interesting fact being reported.

    The gunman appeared “tall, blonde and [of] Nordic looks” according to reports.

  2. PJ says:

    Things to consider
    * The reporting on the gunman looking Nordic is wrong.
    * The attacks are not connected.
    * The gunman is a Norwegian working with Muslim terrorists.
    or
    * Muslim terrorists aren’t behind the attacks.

  3. rodney dill says:

    Uff da

  4. Heidi says:

    the gunman is arrested and the bombing has stopped. 7 people is dead and more are ingured from the bombing, and from Utøya, a vitnes said that he had countet as mutch as 25-30 people dead both in the water and on the island. but the police is not confirmed anything.

    they say that the gunman is 1,90 meter tall and blond hair and white skin. vitness sais that he looks nordic, he alså was dressed as a Norwegian police man but the press suspect that its a costplay.

    roads are still closed and teenages are still swimming from the island and some are still hiding. police has taken controll over the island.

    we pray for our fellow Norwegiands and curse the gunman.

    peace.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    My sympathies to those in Norway who are dealing with this shit. 🙁

    One really shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Al-Q are baaaad folks, but I’m tired of them being pumped up to be mega-powerful boogeymen.

  6. pcbedamned says:

    @Heidi:

    Prayers to you and your fellow Norwegians.

  7. PJ says:

    @PJ:

    The gunman appeared “tall, blonde and [of] Nordic looks” according to reports.

    ‘Arrested person is a Norwegian citizen’ Justice Minister Knut Storberget. #osloexpl #oslobomb #whys

  8. Murray says:

    Norway, and other Scandinavian countries, have had big problems with violent ultra-right wing organizations in recent years.

    Add to that the fact the shooting targeted a Labor youth summer university and Al-Qaeda isn’t the main suspect.

  9. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:

    But every terrorist attack isn’t perpetrated by Muslims. There are plenty of other aggrieved maniacs out there willing to commit mass mayhem.

    Actually, between 2006 and 2008, 0.4% of terrorist attacks in Europe where perpetrated by Muslims.

  10. Anderson says:

    The terrorist fellow who claimed responsibility has now taken that back … whatever THAT means.

    The working assumption that there’s no such thing as a white Norwegian Muslim extremist is probably a good one, but it’s not irrefutable.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    This is looking like an Oklahoma City.

  12. Franklin says:

    @Murray: What are the reasons behind this ultra right-wing growth?

  13. PJ says:

    The police in Norway are now reporting that at least 80 people has died at the youth camp.

  14. Murray says:

    @Franklin:
    I don’t know why but one can imagine it has to do with frustrated people reacting.

    In effect, in the sixties and seventies left wing internationalists opposed right wing governments and societies whereas today right-wing nationalists oppose left of center internationalist governments and societies?

    The above is just cheap “sociology” on my part but even the Swiss recently have had to deal with violent neo-nazi groups raising havoc in otherwise peaceful demonstrations.