Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Anders Behring Breivik: Norway’s Homegrown Terrorist

A Midsummer Mass Murder in Norway

The aftermath of Breivik's Oslo bombing

The aftermath of Breivik's Oslo bombing

It was a typical summer afternoon on a Friday in the government district of Norway’s capital of Oslo. In just a few hours, the weekend would begin for those who had not yet left work to join family and friends. No one had much reason to pay attention to the Volkswagen van parked in front of a building where many high-level government officials worked. Then in a moment, the peaceful setting suddenly became a scene of mass destruction, chaos, and death as 950 kilograms, about 2,094 pounds, of fertilizer-based explosives detonated from inside the van.

The blast was heard and felt over a mile away, shattering the windows of the government building four stories up and spraying shrapnel within a 300-foot radius into the surrounding buildings, cars, and bodies of innocent bystanders.

Paramedics and police arrived to find over a dozen injured from the blast laying on the rubble-strewn street and sidewalk, covered in blood and shrapnel. The Volkswagen van was a burned-out hulk. Firemen rushed to put out fires that had erupted in the government building.

The aftermath of Breivik's Oslo bombing

The aftermath of Breivik's Oslo bombing

But the worst was yet to come. Soon after the blast, a 32-year-old white male left the Oslo bombing site and traveled about 20 miles away to Lake Tyrifjorden wearing a police uniform. He then took a ferry three-fourths of a mile to Utoya island, where hundreds of teenagers had already heard the news at a summer camp sponsored by Norway’s Labour Party.

About 700 of the teenagers and camp counselors had assembled in a large hall where the adults attempted to explain what they knew about the bombing. The camp counselors were relieved when a police officer entered the meeting hall and asked to make a statement.

But then, in a scene that was as surreal and absurd as it was horrifying, the man dressed in a police officer’s uniform began shooting the teenagers and staff with specially designed, hollow-point bullets from a .223-caliber gun. He did the executed the shots quickly and methodically.

Many of the campers tried to flee the 26-acre island by jumping into the lake and swimming away from the shooter. Some were rescued in boats; two of the adolescents drowned. As the deadly chaos continued, the campers scattered, either swimming or literally running for their lives. As the death toll mounted, the gunman walked over and between the bodies lying on the shore, killing people as fast as he could: Aiming, shooting, and occasionally, reloading.

Police remove bodies from Utoya Island

Police remove bodies from Utoya Island

Police were not officially contacted until 5:27 p.m., but according to some reports, calls to police were blocked unless they had a direct connection to the bombing. Records show that police were sent at 5:45 p.m. Special forces eventually landed on the island and the shooter surrendered without a struggle at about 6:30 p.m. The shooter had well over an hour to finish hunting down his prey.

News reports speculated that the Oslo bombing and subsequent shooting was the result of an Islamist attack. But the arrest of the gunman quickly made it obvious that the killer, Anders Behring Breivik, had nothing to do with Islamic terrorism.

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