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Bomb blast rocks downtown Oslo

Published time: July 22, 2011 13:45
Edited time: July 25, 2011 09:52

A powerful explosion damaged government buildings in the center of the Norwegian capital. Shortly after the blast, a man dressed as a police officer opened fire at a Labor Party youth gathering near Oslo. Altogether 87 people are confirmed dead.

Preliminary reports suggest the cause of the explosion was a car bomb with a one kilometer blast radius that blew up at approximately 3:30 p.m. (13:30 GMT), shattering the windows of the prime minister's offices and also inflicting damage to nearby buildings housing oil- and finance-industry offices.

The prime minister's office was damaged by the blast, but he was elsewhere at the time.

Reports say a terrorist group, the Helpers of the Global Jihad, claimed responsibility, in response to Norway's involvement in Afghanistan, but later retracted the statement.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called the attacks "bloody and cowardly," as he formed an emergency government meeting to deal with the crisis. 

Witnesses reported that dozens of injured were lying in the streets covered in blood after the blast. Assistant Chief Constable Egil Vrekke of the Oslo police confirmed that there are "a lot" of casualties and said the rescue operation is ongoing.

Police say a dead body was found inside one of the government buildings hit by the blast. There have also been reports of a fire in the Oil Ministry building, which is located at the same site.

Norwegian State Secretary Kristian Amundsen said that several people were trapped following the bomb blast in Oslo. He added that the situation is the worst his country has seen. The terrorist attack was the biggest in Europe since the London bombings in 2005.

"This is a terror attack. It is the most violent event to strike Norway since World War II," Geir Bekkevold, an opposition parliamentarian for the Christian People’s Party, told Reuters.

The blast occurred at the offices of the Norwegian newspaper VG, which is located not far from the prime minister’s office and other government facilities. The massive explosion shattered windows in a 17-story government building and led to the evacuation of office buildings near the prime minister's headquarters.

Several Norwegian news outlets quoted police sources as saying that there may be two other bombs in the city that have not exploded. Police are searching the area to find them.

In central Oslo, the train station was evacuated, as was the headquarters of broadcaster TV2, because of suspicious packages. The city center has been closed off by the police.

The Norwegian news agency NTB says Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is safe, citing government spokeswoman Camilla Ryste. The prime minister gave a brief phone interview to Norwegian TV2 television, describing the situation as "very serious." He refused to disclose his whereabouts, on then advice of the police. Oslo police said the explosion was caused by "one or more" bombs, one of them in a car parked next to a government building, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Norwegian TV2 is reporting that three people were arrested in Oslo and police are searching cars at Oslo’s airport. According to reports, Norwegian soldiers have taken up positions at crucial points in the capital.

A terrorist group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami (Helpers of the Global Jihad), issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, according to Will McCants, a terrorism analyst at CNA, a research institute that studies terrorism, The Guardian reported. The message said the attack was a response to Norwegian forces' presence in Afghanistan and to unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad.

“We have warned since the Stockholm raid of more operations,” the group said, apparently referring to a bombing in Sweden in December 2010, according to McCants’ translation. “What you see is only the beginning, and there is more to come.”

The claim could not be confirmed.

Experts are debating why usually quiet Norway was targeted for this double attack.

Norway is widely known as one of Europe’s most peaceful countries. Reportedly there are no terrorist organizations there.

Still, the country is an active member of NATO and, in recent years, took part in military operations in Afghanistan and Libya. The Al Qaeda terrorist network repeatedly voiced its discontent with Norway’s political position.

Norwegian police often report arresting people suspected of terrorist activities. The blast comes as Norway deals with a homegrown militant conspiracy linked to al-Qaeda. Two suspects are in jail awaiting charges.

Recently Norwegian prosecutors filed a terrorism charge against Mullah Krekar, founder of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who is accused of threatening to kill a former minister, Erna Solberg.

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