Last Friday when gunman/bomber, Anders Behring Breivik, launched his attack in Oslo, Norway, the island received a slow response from the police.
Breivik assumed the police would have detained him much earlier, but since they didn’t, he went on shooting more victims. It took police more than 90 minutes to reach the gunman, who by then had mortally wounded 68 people. Breivik immediately dropped his guns and surrendered, having exceeded his wildest murderous expectations.
“Children were being slaughtered for an hour and a half and the police should have stopped it much sooner,” said Mads Andenas, a law professor at the University of Oslo whose niece was on the island and survived by hiding in the bushes. One of his students was killed.
Survivors said they struggled to get their panicked pleas heard because operators on emergency lines were rejecting calls not connected to the Oslo bomb. When police finally realized a gunman was shooting teens and 20-somethings attending a youth retreat on the island, Breivik had already been hunting them down for half an hour.
In a final act of bungling, police on Monday revised the island death toll down to 68.
Police spokesman Johan Fredriksen rebuffed criticism Tuesday of the planning and equipment failures, calling such comments “unworthy.”
“We can take a lot, we’re professional, but we are also human beings,” he said.
International experts said Norway must take a hard look at a response system apparently premised on the assumption that the country didn’t face a credible risk of terrorist attack, much less a back-to-back bombing and gun rampage.
Fernando Reinares, former senior anti-terrorism adviser to the Spanish government, said Friday’s attacks point to “an astonishing failure in police intelligence.” He said a competent anti-terrorist agency would have identified Breivik before he struck because of his purchases of bomb-making ingredients and specialist weaponry.
“Norway is behind other Western European countries in adapting internal security structures and procedures to face terrorist challenges,” Reinares said. “But there was also an amazing failure in police preparedness and reaction, both in terms of human resources and technical capabilities.”
Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, said Norway has been victimized in the same way as all countries caught off guard by terror.
“Their planners suffered a major failure of imagination, to foresee that the adversary could go that far,” he said. “But this is exactly what every counter-terror policy must do to be effective: to plan and train for worst-case scenarios. Because if you haven’t done that before the bomb goes off or the shooting starts, then you’re just improvising, and that just increases the dangers.”
The Delta Force squad – whose Norwegian name, “Beredskapstroppen,” means “emergency unit” – is equipped only to travel to crises on Norway’s largely two-lane road network. It took about a half-hour to cover the roughly 25-mile journey.
Police spokesman Sturla Henriksbo said Norway – a country spanning some 1,100 miles (1,750 kilometers) in length, with about 50,000 islands – has only one four-seater police helicopter, based at an airport north of Oslo.
“That helicopter is never assigned for the transportation of anyone, never mind Delta Force,” he said.
Still, it could have been used as a rapid-response platform for a police sniper, said Finn Abrahamsen, a former Oslo policeman who directed the force’s violent crimes unit. But, this wouldn’t even have happened since all police helicopter pilots were away on summer holidays.
Instead of retrieving an army helicopter from the nearest base in Rygge, some 40 miles to the south, Delta Force drove, then waited for the local police department to scramble its lone boat, a small rigid inflatable craft. All the while, shooting and screams could be heard from Utoya, just 600 yards away.
Within seconds of jumping on board, officers found themselves having to bail out the overloaded vessel. Then the engine became waterlogged and died. They then got a new boat from a tourist.
Authorities say that within five minutes after the police reached the island, Breivik was disarmed and in custody. In a 1,500-page manifesto published online before the attack, the killer said he planned to surrender as soon as police arrived, so that he could publicize his extreme nationalist and anti-Muslim views in court and inspire copycat attacks elsewhere.
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