Report Issued On 2011 Shooting Rampage In Norway
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's think back, now, to a deadly tragedy that stunned the nation of Norway. A little over a year ago, a gunman named Anders Breivik killed 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage in Oslo, and at a summer camp for young people on a nearby island. Today, the findings of an independent investigation were released. The report concluded that communications systems were lacking, and emergency response plans were not properly followed. Even so, most Norwegians feel their country showed the right response to the massacre. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sent this report.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: It's that sweet yet fleeting time of year, when Oslo is warm and breezy. Norwegians take advantage of the weather with a picnic in the grass, or stop to watch a street magician perform. Other than a memorial to victims outside the main cathedral, there's little indication here that the country is recovering from its worst disaster since World War II. Jan Egeland, head of Human Rights Watch Europe, has worked on terrorism issues worldwide. He says Norwegians are proud of how their country responded to Anders Breivik's attack.
JAN EGELAND: When we saw how many youth were killed, the prime minister said we now need more tolerance, more openness, more democracy - not less. And that became, in a way, the rallying cry across society.
BEARDSLEY: Egeland contrasts Norway's response to America's reaction after 9/11; when, he says, the U.S. went over to the dark side, flouting human rights and circumventing international law - though Egeland admits Norway might have reacted differently, if the killer had come from an outside group like al-Qaida. Egeland says today's report is critical of the police, which took an hour and a half to get to Utoya Island and put an end to Breivik's killing spree.
EGELAND: We should strengthen police. We should strengthen intelligence so that they can find extremists before they strike. But what will not be changed is that you will have armed police in the streets or, you know, sniffer dogs every time we meet.
BEARDSLEY: Many Norwegians say they'll be relieved to put the Breivik disaster behind them. The final verdict from his April trial will also be delivered at the end of this month. There is a debate over whether Breivik should be judged as sane or insane. If he is found insane, he can be held in a psychiatric institution indefinitely. But a sane judgment would mean a maximum sentence of 21 years, though he could be held longer if still considered a danger to society.
SVEIN ROALD HANSEN: Hi.
BEARDSLEY: Hello. Hi.
HANSEN: You got in?
BEARDSLEY: That's Svein Roald Hansen, a member of the Norwegian parliament. Hansen says many people are angry that the trial gave Breivik a platform from which to spew his anti-immigrant, extreme-right diatribe. But Hansen says no one would think of changing the country's laws because of Breivik.
HANSEN: I think it's very important that he is given the same rights that other prisoners in Norway, because that's part of how we responded. We have to treat him within the laws that we have in Norway, and that's the way we do it.
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BEARDSLEY: On July 22nd - the one-year anniversary of the massacre - hundreds of people attended a memorial service on Utoya Island, organized by the Labor Party's youth wing that Breivik targeted. Now, there is a debate over whether the island should be left as a memorial, or resume holding summer youth camps - as it has for decades. Asmund Aukrust is vice president of the Labor Party's youth wing, known as AUF. He is also a survivor of the massacre.
ASMUND AUKRUST: Those hours were terrifying, and then we were hiding for their life. And of course, we think about that day very often. But most of the time, we think about all the people that we lost.
BEARDSLEY: Aukrust says because of those lost lives, Utoya has become an important symbol of Norway's commitment to a multicultural, open society. For that reason, he says a large majority of youth party members want to go back.
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BEARDSLEY: Today, Utoya's fir-tree-covered shores are empty. But you can look across to the island from the mainland, just a couple hundred yards away. The boathouse, and the rocks upon which youth tried to cling and hide, are clearly visible. Locals took their boats from a campsite here, to rescue survivors. And today, people come to the campsite to remember what happened. Hilda Jacobsen sits at the end of the dock with her 12-year-old son, staring out at the island. She says while people do feel a little more vulnerable now, Breivik didn't change Norway.
HILDA JACOBSEN: Like it said on this memorial stone, if one man can show so much hatred, think about how much love we can show when we are together. So he was one, and Norway is 5 million people. So he can't change this country. He can't change people here. Norway's still a beautiful, peaceful place on Earth, I think.
BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.