Saturday, July 23, 2011

Norway survivors recount island horror

The farm in the village of Aasta lies in a pine forest on the banks of the Glomma River about 160 kilometers north of Oslo and was a picture of calm under a light drizzle that brought out the scent of the trees.

Police officers took cordoned off the farm, leased by Anders Behring Breivik two months ago, Friday evening.

The 32-year-old has been held for Friday's massacre of at least 85 young people on a tiny island hosting a summer camp for the youth wing of the ruling Labor party and car bomb blast in Oslo's government district that killed at least seven.

Policemen, one wearing blue overalls and a surgical mask hanging below his chin, and a soldier dressed in army fatigues paced across the yard and in-and-out of a red barn facing the small white farmhouse.

Local police chief Ove Osgjelten allowed a small group of reporters to enter the perimeter marked by police tape to view and photograph the farmyard from a short distance. He declined to give details of the police operation under way.

In front of one outbuilding, along a road leading down a gentle slope to the house, stood a half a dozen thick white sacks of fertilizer. Many fertilizers contain a substance that can also be a key ingredient in a forceful explosive.

Authorities said Saturday that the death toll from twin attacks had reached 92, with 85 victims — mostly young people — in the rampage targeting a youth camp of the ruling Labor Party on Utoya and at least seven in a massive bomb blast that occurred shortly beforehand in the center of Oslo. Four people are still missing.

Police said the suspected gunman, Anders Behring Breivik, described as a Christian fundamentalist with extreme right-wing views, put up no resistance when officers finally arrived on Utoya to apprehend him. He has admitted firing on hundreds of people gathered on the island outside Oslo for the summer retreat, police said.

It was a methodical massacre that went on, incredibly, for at least 60 minutes. Terrified youths were hunted down as they cowered inside bathrooms, scrambled through bushes on the heavily wooded island and dived into the icy waters to try to escape.

With a sniper's calm, the gunman picked them off on land and in the water, using a handgun and an automatic weapon. Even more frightening, he was dressed in a police uniform, which made some desperate survivors uncertain whether help or more hell had come when the real officers showed up.

"Who could we trust?" a survivor named Khamshajiny Gunaratnam wrote on her blog.

Breivik is also suspected of setting off the car bomb in Oslo. An agricultural cooperative reported Saturday that Breivik, 32, had ordered six metric tons of artificial fertilizer to be delivered to his farmhouse in Asta, a sparsely populated community about 2 1/2 hours north of Oslo, at the beginning of May.

Because he owned a farm, the purchase seemed legitimate, though large, authorities said. But such fertilizer can also be used to make explosives, as was the case in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, carried out by anti-government Army veteran Timothy McVeigh.

About four to five metric tons were found at Breivik's farmhouse, Oslo Deputy Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim said. Investigators are now trying to determine whether other bombs might be planted elsewhere.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said government workers were among the dead. The remains of some victims are still to be recovered from inside the heavily damaged buildings in downtown Oslo, police said.

Although the huge explosion appeared meant to kill on a large scale, it also served as a diversion from — and a set-up for — the real slaughter to come on Utoya, less than an hour away from downtown Oslo.

Simen Mortensen, a volunteer for the summer camp, was stationed on the mainland side of the ferry service to Utoya. He told the Verdens Gang newspaper that a man wearing a police uniform and a bulletproof vest pulled up in a silver vehicle. The man was armed with a pistol and an automatic weapon with a telescopic lens.

"He gets out of the car and shows identification. Says he's been sent to check on security, that this is routine, in connection with the terrorist attack," Mortensen said. "Everything looks fine, and a boat is called to ferry him over to Utoya.

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