Thursday 14 December 2017

Norway wakes up to the nightmare

On the ground, on the deadliest day -- I saw everything change forever

Few countries in the world were as unprepared for Friday's atrocities as Norway.

The death toll was the largest since World War Two and totally unexpected in a country with little or no security precautions at airports or public buildings.

I arrived in Norway from Ireland via Copenhagen without hindrance from passport control, and there seems to be the same freedom of movement between Scandinavian countries as there is between the UK and Ireland.

The liberality exists beyond tourists. One in every four residents of Oslo is a migrant and the country has a huge asylum-seeker population.

The dread for Norway's politicians on Friday afternoon was that this was imported terrorism within its own ranks and that a future of massive security costs beckoned.

In the immediate aftermath of the bomb explosion, Norwegian television had a succession of experts, mostly American, who declared with

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certainty that this atrocity bore all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda operation and was proof positive that the death of Osama Bin Laden was a precursor to similar attacks around the globe.

It seemed to ignore the rather obvious question of why a terrorist would plant a bomb on a Friday evening in a near-deserted area of the city. Certainly the "hard men" of Belfast would have chosen a more damaging target. Such was Oslo's confusion that the prime minister appeared on TV to confirm he was alive.

However, within hours, news filtered through of the shootings of young people at a youth rally.

It placed a new complexion on the matter when the killer turned out to be a blue-eyed, blonde, extreme-right Christian Norwegian. One could almost feel the sense of relief of commentators, as a fundamentalist Christian presented much less of a global threat than a fundamentalist Muslim.

There is now a real pressure to link the two terrible events. A lunatic is less dangerous than a trained terrorist.

The fact that the suspect in custody had earlier this year bought six tonnes of fertiliser lends credence to the belief that he was also the bomb-maker.

It would suit Norway to dismiss this awful action in the way that the USA consistently ignores random shootings in its high schools. In America, the gun lobby can deny any connection between easy access to weaponry and mentally ill murderers.

Similarly, Norway could pass this off as an aberration and continue its relaxed approach to security.

The economy crucially depends on tourism and it needs a picture of a Norse haven to lure the German and Austrian retirees that travel there in droves.

The reaction of the ordinary Norwegian is interesting. As tourists struggle to put their sympathy into words, they are met with uncomprehending stares from locals who seem unable to grasp the enormity of events.

They, like the government and the security forces, hope this was simply a nightmare from which they will wake up next week and then continue with their normal lives.

The people of Belfast, London and New York have learned to live with the threat from a committed and organised enemy. The people of Norway, and indeed Scandinavia as a whole, now wait to see if there lives will be changed forever, like so many others around the globe.

Somehow, I think the threat will come from a different source but the effect on people's lives will be the same.

Sunday Independent

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