Historical archive

Historical archive

22 July 2011 Terror Attacks - Norway’s efforts to reconcile and heal

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher: Ministry of Defence

The terror attacks went beyond anything our small nation has experienced - or even imagined. [...] The terror attacks went beyond anything our small nation has experienced - or even imagined.

By State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen, Ministry of Defence, Norway
Sovereign Challenge VIII
December 8, Savannah, Georgia

State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen addressed the Sovereign Challenge VIII conference in Savannah, Georgia, December 8 2011 (Ryan O'Hare)

State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen addressed the Sovereign Challenge VIII conference in Savannah, Georgia, December 8 2011 (Ryan O'Hare)

Nobody thought it would happen in Norway, but it did.  Last July terror struck peaceful Oslo and Utøya Island. Our idyllic nation, at the northern periphery, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, was attacked by a sole perpetrator. 

I would like to thank you for the invitation to address the conference Sovereign Challenge here at the US SOCOM in charming and historic Savannah.  I am honoured to be here in front of such a distinguished group.  I am going to speak about Norway’s efforts to reconcile and heal after the horrific terror attacks of 22nd July 2011.

Until last summer terror was something we watched strike elsewhere, far from our peaceful shores. We could witness barbarity on CNN or Al Jazeera, occurring in faraway lands, close at screen, but yet so distant. But not here.  22nd July brought a change to all that. Our democracy and our very values were tested in a single afternoon by a car bomb and a massacre. 

Large sections of our government quarters were blown up by a single homemade bomb, not very different from the one detonated by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City in 1995.   It could have killed hundreds. But the bomb struck on a Friday afternoon at the peak of the holiday season. Only 8 people were slain, and dozens critically injured. It virtually destroyed the Prime Minister’s office, the Supreme Court and several ministries. Imagine the White House, the Old Executive Building and the Department of Commerce at Pennsylvania Avenue, in the heart of Washington, faltering in a single blow. That would be devastating.  We were not prepared for this. The physical destruction was massive, affecting the lives of hundreds. But the damage to our people, our society, and democracy was far greater.

But it did not end there. Approximately 90 minutes later, 25 miles away, Utøya Island was attacked by the same perpetrator.  The island is owned and run by the youth league of the Labour Party, the largest in Norway (to which the prime minister and I belong). The summer camp takes place one week every July, bringing together about 500 youths from all over the country. These are idealistic youngsters who want to make the world a better place. At camp they debate politics, play sports and music in an atmosphere of friendship. 

The heavily armed gunman, disguised as a police officer, shot and killed 69 of our dear children for more than one hour. They were promising young people executed in the most sinister and cynical manner. They thought he was there to protect them, but instead he was there to destroy life. He wounded and maimed just as many. His aim was to kill as many as possible before being disarmed by the police.

I think in this context it would be appropriate to mention that the United States also has been tested a number of times in similar attacks. The school massacre at Columbine High School close to Denver, Colorado in 1999 that killed 13 people; the shooting spree by a lone student at the Virginia Tech University in 2007, killing 32 and the Fort Hood shooting in Texas in 2009 killing 13, are horrific examples in recent time.

My life was affected more than most, both professionally and personally, during these dreadful afternoon hours. As state secretary, I serve at the highest level of government, taking part in decision-making important to the lives and prospects of many.   But as a father, I was even more directly hit. My step-daughter Ylva was one of the victims at Utøya, shot four times; in both thighs, in the abdomen and the neck. For nearly 24 hours we thought we had lost her. But then her name appeared at the very end of the last list of hope; namely the list over the victims that were likely to be alive, but in critical condition.  Her wounds were severe, but Ylva has had a miraculous recovery and is now back in school. Politics is even dearer to her now, and she is more preoccupied with democracy and to do right than ever before.

Too many of our best and brightest teenagers were torn away that day.  Anders Kristiansen, 18 years old, dreamed of becoming county governor of Troms, my home county.  His vision was to ensure that small communities in Northern Norway would have a future. Simon Sæbø, also 18, was to embark upon service in the Navy. He wanted to run a fish-farm and export quality salmon to prepare the grounds in order to become the minister of fishery.  Viljar Hansen, a very close family friend, 18 years old, was shot five times, also in the eye. He told us from his hospital bed badly injured, “that there are so many good people out there.” He is now very much alive and has been elected to office in Spitsbergen, the world’s northernmost community, working to protect the interests of the young.  We also lost Gunnar Linaker from Troms, son of Chaplain Roald Linaker in Northern Norway.

Going beyond anybody’s imagination, death came brutally upon us without a warning. It changed society and it changed our people, but in all its ugliness, it paradoxically also brought life and hope for the future.  The citizens of Oslo and elsewhere in Norway gathered in our capital. The streets filled with 200 000 children, parents, and grandparents who had turned up to listen to our Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. He declared that “we do not let fear break us. Evil may kill a human being, but will never defeat a people.”  He went on “Norway will pass the test, applying the strongest of all weapons; with the free word and democracy, we will chart the course after 22nd July 2011.” He concluded “More openness, more democracy, firmness and strength. That is us. That is Norway.”

His Majesty, King Harald, in one of his addresses, emphasized that “he strongly believed that our faith in freedom is stronger than our fear.” And that “even in the darkest moment, our desire to live safe and free will prevail.”   The mayor of Oslo expressed his way of penalizing the perpetrator by attacking the declared aims of his killings: “Our punishment will be more generosity, more tolerance and more democracy.”

In the days following the massacre, the square outside Oslo Cathedral was transformed into a sea of flowers. Hundreds of thousands from near and far paid their respect by bringing flowers and writing poems to the victims. Summer tourists and Norwegians, the atmosphere throughout the nation remained quiet and respectful, not loud and vengeful. The sheer shock and brutality of the onslaught had made people come together to try to understand, but most of all to take care of each other.

Let me now leave the sentiments and turn to a more analytical approach.
As indicated, the onslaught on 22nd July was in fact two separate attacks. First, the bombing of the Government quarters with a homemade car bomb, and then, the sequential shooting of victims at the Utøya Island. Each of the attacks turned out more dramatic than any act of violence previously experienced in Norway, certainly during times of peace. They challenged Norwegian authorities in a multitude of different ways.
First we should note that the two attacks had to be prepared in different ways. The bomb attack and the mass killing required different technologies, materiel, weapons and transportation, and thus represented markedly different challenges to the intelligence communities. Without being detected, the bomber had meticulously assembled all his ingredients and ammunition over years.

Furthermore, it should also be noticed that the bombing and the mass killings were carried out in different operational environments. The bombing of the government quarters took place in the center of Oslo. The shootings of victims were conducted at an inland island not far from the city, but in a sparsely populated area.

We should also keep in mind that the bombing and the mass killings represented different possibilities for the authorities to intervene. The bombing required that the perpetrator could prepare and place the bomb, but did not call for his presence at the time of detonation. The massacre, on the other hand, required that the victims could be rounded up and chased uninterrupted throughout the island.

Please also note that the attacks, in addition to going beyond anything previously witnessed in Norway, happened almost at the same time. The bombing killed eight persons and caused severe damage to the heart of the Norwegian government. The attack at Utøya, as mentioned, killed 69.

The perpetrator is a 32 year old Norwegian, a Christian and Caucasian male. Abandoned by his father and deprived of his mother’s care, his childhood became isolated and lonely. Although being raised in the privileged parts of Oslo, he appeared unable to bond and embark upon a clear professional path. He became a drifter, frequently altering careers, turning to right wing, anti-immigrant rhetoric, ending up as a “lone wolf.”

He thus fits the “lone wolf terrorist” label very well. Usually, the lone wolf shares an ideological or philosophical identification with an extremist group, but does not communicate with it directly. While the actions are motivated to advance a group’s goal, the tactics and methods are conceived and directed by the lone wolf alone.  Hence, lone-wolf terrorism poses a particular problem for counter-terrorism officials, as it is more difficult to gather intelligence on them, compared to conventional terrorists. In the US you have the famous examples of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, though the latter had some assistance.

Upon committing his acts, the perpetrator published his Manifesto, 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, a lengthy and incoherent document, influenced and plagiarized from right wing individuals such as the Unabomber and more recent bloggers.  The ideology – to the degree we can call it that - is militant and contains elements of cultural conservatism, right-wing populism and ultra-Nationalism. He labels Islam and «cultural Marxism» as the enemy, and calls for the defeat of «Eurabia» and multi-Culturalism in order to preserve a Christian Europe.

The victims of the bombing at the government quarters were civil servants and random passers by crossing the square at the time of impact.  The victims at Utøya all had links to the Labour Party Youth League, most of them only teenagers as young as 14 years old, some from foreign countries. Clearly, the perpetrator wanted to strike at future political leadership, among those advocating multi-Culturalism, inclusion and tolerance.

The Police involved included local forces and Special Forces that were sent from Oslo. The latter were able to enter the island by boat and apprehend a surrendering gunman. Military resources were also activated and to some degree utilized, primarily after the gunman was apprehended. Helicopters and the Home Guard secured all government quarters and official buildings, including the Royal Palace and Parliament.

At the political and national level the attacks were managed first and foremost by the Prime Minister. Mr. Stoltenberg led the nation in a calm, thoughtful and reassuring manner.  Commentators have emphasized that this was the moment he rose to the occasion and moved closer towards statesmanship.

No doubt the victims, both individually and Norway as a nation, have had to pass stages of mentally absorbing the terror attacks. For the first month, the situation was handled with dignity and respect. All political parties, media, and the public at large, were preoccupied with seeking unity and coherence to a mourning society. This was essential as a first step in a healing process.  In times like these, people come together, unity as one nation outweighs political and social differences.

Now, more than four months after, the mood has changed. The media and political opposition have increasingly turned critical to the handling of the situation. Questions have appeared. Did the government do everything in its power to protect its citizens? In short, did it prove adept at managing the situation?

The terror attacks went beyond anything our small nation has experienced - or even imagined.  There are many questions and not quite as many good answers. There are certainly some that are more important than others, and they need to be raised. The first question we should ask is: what is the Norwegian government doing to prevent something like this from ever occurring again?

The Government has appointed a special committee to analyze and evaluate the handling of the attacks. It will be in session until next August. It will undertake a comprehensive effort covering every aspect of the incidents; nothing is to be left unchecked. Its most important task will be to draw lessons, how do we prepare society to manage a future terrorist attacks in a best possible way? I am not going to preempt its findings and we do not have all the answers yet. This is a very complex and difficult issue, and we have only just started to address it.

It remains the supreme task of any government to protect the life of its citizens. It is clear that we did not fully achieve this goal on this day.  The armed forces and police remain the principal means of enforcement to the Norwegian government. Co-operation between police and armed forces is thus critical in a situation like this, and it could have been managed in a different way.

In Norway there are strict limitations as to how the armed forces may be applied for civilian purposes. Our Constitution of 1814, prohibits the use of the armed forces against civilians. Strong reactions have occurred in our society when the employment of military force has bordered to misuse. During the depression in the 1930s, when class struggle was stronger than national cohesion, the Army and Navy were mobilized and deployed against workers on strike (the so called Menstadslaget, in June 1931). This did not play out well although nobody was killed. It set a standard that has been reinforced over the years, separating military force from civilian tasks.

Judging from the 22 July attacks, we see that police and military resources, in extreme situations, should be allocated more in tandem, supplementing each other’s roles.
In Norway we have, hence, entered into a debate as to how the armed forces should support the police and civilian society and define when it should be applicable. Cleary co-operation is important. The armed forces must have clear guidelines on how, when and to what extent it gives a hand to the police, be it natural disasters or terrorist attacks. And the police needs guidelines as to when to ask for assistance.

An important element in this effort is the enhancement of our readiness, particularly with regard to terror. A sharper and more effective state of readiness will allow us to respond more quickly and coordinated to an attack. More concretely, we need to ensure that we make military resources, such as helicopters on stand-by and home guard forces available for the police as quickly as possible. 

We are also strengthening the co-operation between our military intelligence community and our police security service. They now work more closely on gathering intelligence and in preparing threat and security assessments.

Going beyond these points, other questions come to my mind. Is there really any way you can prepare for the unpredictable? The short answer is – not fully. But still one can argue that our society to some degree was quite prepared.  Norway has certain added advantages, given its small size and cohesion. That cohesion is apparent at the national level. We remain a small homogeneous country, counting less than 5 million people, with a common heritage and a strong sense of unity.

The political cohesion is also considerable in times of crisis, both within the respective political parties’ unity and within the Norwegian political culture as such. Within the Labour Party, which I know best, this is evident, and it applies to our adolescents and to the well-established summer camp at Utøya as well.  Our youngsters are well informed and well-spoken teenagers. During live coverage on BBC-World and CNN following the attacks, we were all struck by their eloquence and analytical abilities following the drama they had just been part of. But as stated, the unpredictable can never be entirely foreseen.

Perhaps an even more important question we need to raise is how Norwegian society so far has facilitated restitution for the people and the groups that were affected most. This is an unprecedented situation calling for post-traumatic restitution at all different levels.  First and foremost, this applies to the individuals and the families that went through the trauma. But also the Labour Party, being the ultimate target of the killer, must undergo necessary restitution.  Many representatives of government offices that were present during time of impact of the car bomb will need help as well.

For all these victims it is critical that we are able to gather as much information and answer as many questions as possible, sooner rather than later. This must be done in order to reduce their anxiety and uncertainty.  Parents of victims will need to learn how their children died in order to come to terms with the situation. Given the complexity of the case, these and other details will take time to uncover, but should be emphasized in dealing with the post-trauma.

In the aftermath of such a national trauma, it is critical that society does not alter its open and free ways.  In Norway we are proud of our open and free democracy. It is inclusive and strong.  Justice must be served, the rule of law upheld, and government must not limit the freedoms of its citizens. There is always a balance that needs to be struck between security and freedom. It is of utmost importance that we take steps to prevent attacks like these from ever happening again.  We must not be naïve, but resolute and firm. We must seek to find the middle ground that serves both freedom and security.

Against this background, it would seem appropriate to ask if Norway, as a modern western society, has passed the democratic test in managing the aftermath of the terror attacks?  Given both my professional and personal proximity to the case, I should not be the final arbiter of that question. But still, I do think, and many observers at home and abroad have argued, that our society has not lost its ways. We must apply the mechanisms of rule of law and use our existing institutions to manage also situations such as this. Despite the heinous crime committed, the perpetrator has a right to a best possible defence, a right to try his case in a court of law.  He should be tried within the boundaries of the law; we should not be tempted to go beyond that. New laws must not be tailored to fit particular purposes. To me this is proof of a modern democracy.

Society at large must also seek to uphold its freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement; critical components of a state based on the rule of law. We have succeeded in my view, to preserve the free word in our attempts to even further develop our democracy.  Violence cannot be met by more violence, a standard must be set. We must learn from these brutal hours, but we must never give up the values that are most dear to us. We must remember the words of the King that “our faith in freedom is stronger than our fear.” Democracy must prevail; there is no workable or acceptable alternative.

Our society has been rigorously tested, but we could have been held to an even higher standard. Were the perpetrator not one of our own, but rather an Islamic aggressor or a terror network; - would we have responded in the same way? That, of course, we cannot answer.  I sincerely believe we would have handled it in the same manner, although I hope we will not be put to a test like that.

You have been patient listening to my address, and I thank you for that. In summary, I will add that the overriding question in this brutal case is really: can we ensure that something like this will never repeat itself?  We cannot guarantee any such thing. But what we can do is to reinforce our democracy that can never be taken for granted. We must confront hatred, nationalism and phobias, enemies of open and free society. But we must also nurture the ideas that are most dear to us; respect, tolerance and love.  We must never allow ourselves to settle for less; we must embrace democracy, we have found no better way.

Before closing, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for the world wide support shown us in the wake of this tragedy. We have received a tremendous amount of support and sympathy from other governments, including the United States.  Many have mourned with us and shared our grief. Some have conveyed that: “they were all Norwegians on this very day.” Others have held memorials as victims came from different parts of the world.  In Turkey they have even named a school after a victim at Utøya, a young Turkish-Norwegian woman.  We are most grateful for all of that.

Ylva, my step-daughter, survived and carries her wounds with admirable courage. I have no doubt that she, and many of her peers who survived the massacre, will strive to guard our democratic society and its values as they grow up and enter into the adult world.

Thank you for your attention. I would now like to open for questions.