Norway prepares for killings anniversary

Flowers and candles are placed on the shore opposite to the Utoeya Island, Norway, Sunday, July 24, 2011 The attacks on Utoeya island and Oslo were the worst violence Norway had seen since World War II

22 July is a date which haunts Norway; a date it would like to forget, but never will - the date of the twin attacks carried out by Anders Behring Breivik.

As the country braces itself for the first anniversary of the attacks, thoughts are once again turning to the horror he visited on the small population.

The car-bomb in Oslo designed to kill the leadership of the country, and the shootings on the island of Utoeya designed to destroy the next generation of Labour party politicians, left 77 people dead, the majority of them teenagers.

It was one of the worst acts of terrorism the world has witnessed in recent decades.

The bloodshed had been methodically planned by Breivik and was carried out with such ruthlessness that he even ignored the pleas for mercy from some of the youngsters on Utoeya.

At one stage of his killing spree on the island, he calmly reloaded his gun and shot several through the head as they sat in front of him, paralysed with fear.

The youngest person to die at the summer camp was 14 years old.

Carpet of flowers

But even in the first days of shock after the attacks, it was clear the response of the Norwegian people and their government to this act of terrorism would be unique.

Tens of thousands of Norwegians were soon walking through the streets of central Oslo singing and carrying roses.

A rose is seen at Oslo Cathedral where people placed flowers to pay their respects to those killed in last month's bomb and shooting attacks, in Oslo August 21, 2011 Roses were often carried in peace marches after the attacks

They created a carpet of flowers on the road outside the cathedral with the message: "If one man can show so much hate, just imagine how much love we can all show together."

And at the political level, the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg pledged to do everything to ensure the country's core values were not undermined.

"The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation," he said.

A year later it seems the prime minister has kept his word.

There have been no changes to the law to increase the powers of the police and security services, terrorism legislation remains the same and there have been no special provisions made for the trial of suspected terrorists.

On the streets of Oslo, CCTV cameras are still a comparatively rare sight and the police can only carry weapons after getting special permission.

Even the gate leading to the parliament building in the heart of Oslo remains open and unguarded.

"It is still easy to get access to parliament and we hope it will stay that way, " said Lise Christoffersen, a Labour party MP.

She is convinced people do not want laws passed which would curtail their basic rights and impinge on their privacy despite the relative ease with which Breivik was able to plan and carry out his attacks.

He also claims to have been acting as part of an extremist network, although this has been dismissed by the police.

Public platform

Norway's determination to uphold all normal rights was extended to Breivik himself during the 10-week trial which ended last month.

He was treated as any other suspected criminal and in the opening days was even able to give an extreme nationalist-style salute inside the court until asked to stop it.

The first week of the trial was dominated by Breivik, who was allowed to speak for five days to try to explain his actions.

He used this time to go into graphic detail about how and why he had killed so many people: precisely the public platform he had craved.

Little more than a metre behind him, sat survivors and relatives of those killed.

Anders Behring Breivik, the confessed gunman who killed 77 people last year in a bomb and shooting rampage, centre, reacts in court as prosecutors deliver their closing arguments in the court in Oslo In the first week of the trial Breivik used the opportunity as a public platform for his ideas

And although live television coverage stopped when Breivik was giving this testimony, the world's media was allowed to report every word he had uttered.

Some Norwegians were horrified by the opportunity this gave him to spell out his extreme Islamophobic ideology and there were fears he might succeed in his stated aim of winning new converts to his cause.

Norway does have several far-right groups which have spoken out against Muslim immigrants coming to live in the country.

Start Quote

Their whole point is to create shock and fear and get us to leave our liberal values… we should not let them win”

End Quote Jan Egeland Deputy head of Human Rights Watch

But Cato Shiotz, a senior criminal lawyer, says having an open trial has enabled the Norwegian people to make their own informed judgement about Breivik.

"I think Breivik has done more harm to the radical right than he has benefited them," said Mr Shiotz.

"His ideas now have less support than ever before."

It is this which bolsters the belief held by some senior Norwegians that over the past year their country has provided an alternative model for dealing with terrorism.

"The only way to really combat terror is to show that we are better than them," says Jan Egeland, a former official in the Norwegian foreign ministry and now deputy head of Human Rights Watch.

"Their (the terrorists') whole point is to create shock and fear and get us to leave our liberal values…and lure us over to their shadowy part of the playing field… we should not let them win."

Mr Egeland is highly critical of how other countries, particularly the United States, have dealt with the terrorist threats they face, arguing that methods such as extraordinary rendition, the creation of the special prison for terrorist suspects in Guantanamo and the sanctioning of what is generally viewed as torture, have all been counter-productive.

"The whole (US) struggle against terror lost the moral high ground, You could see how public opinion was lost in Turkey, in Jordan, in moderate countries all over the Middle East," he said.

Different dynamics

But the United States does face a very different threat from that posed by Breivik, who appears to have been acting alone.

 In this image reviewed by the US. Military, a guard looks from a tower, surrounded by barbed wire, above the Camp 4 detention facility, July 23, 2008 at Guantanamo Bay US. Naval Base, in Cuba Norway would not have reacted to a foreign terrorist attack in the same way as the US, Jan Egeland says

The United States is trying to tackle a threat on its own soil and against US targets around the world from a network of militants which is constantly evolving and developing new methods of attack from bases in different countries.

"When a nation is under constant threat and has troops around the world, the terrorism dynamic is different," says the American security analyst Marco Vicenzino.

"In a place like Norway you look at it more from a law enforcement perspective. In the United States you view it more from a war perspective, as a nation under attack."

Jan Egeland admits he is not sure how the Norwegian government would have reacted if the twin attacks a year ago had been carried out by a foreign network like Al Qaeda, as was initially suspected. But he still believes the Norwegian response would have been better than that of the United States.

"I don't think we would have declared that we wanted to go to the dark side and start torturing and invent provocations against international law like Guantanamo," he said.

"But I wonder if we would have stood the test as well."

More on This Story

More Europe stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.