How can it happen here, Norwegians ask themselves

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 23, 2011 10:08 AM
How can it happen here, Norwegians ask themselves

By Johan Ahlander and Terje Solsvik

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegians reacted with stunned disbelief on Saturday to the massacre in their peaceful land, some silently reading newspapers with looks of horror on their faces, others taking in the rare sight of armed soldiers guarding public buildings.

Norway's 4.8 million people, their democratic welfare state cushioned by huge quantities of oil, were unprepared for Friday's double attacks, the worst violence to strike the nation since World War Two.

"It's absurd -- I can't believe it. Norway is the most safe and peaceful place in the world -- or was," said Beate Karlsen, 39, standing at a police roadblock as she tried to catch a glimpse of the bombed government offices in Oslo.

"Maybe Norway is no longer as innocent and safe as we thought," she added thoughtfully.

People were asking how a single man could set off a huge bomb, killing seven people and wrecking the main government building in Oslo, then calmly shoot dead 84 young people -- and wondering whether their country would ever be the same again.

Soldiers with automatic weapons were stationed outside key buildings in the city center and sections of streets were cordoned off.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said after meeting survivors and relatives of the victims that it was too early to say how the attack would change Norway.

"But I think we can maintain some of the most important things we see in Norwegian society -- that we are an open society, that we are a democratic society and that Norway is a society where we have a very close relationship between the people and the politicians," he said.

Until now, Norway has had relatively light security precautions, and the people have had easy access to politicians.

Marit Saxeide, 68, who runs a combined video rental and horse betting store in a district where many non-Western immigrants live, was relieved the suspect was not a Muslim. "It would have been hell here if that were the case," she told Reuters. "All gambling is canceled today, but we have to stay open so that we can continue to talk to each other, talk to our customers."

"It's incomprehensible how a seemingly educated man can do something like this. I sympathize with his mother though, it must be terrible for her." Marit's son Helge, 40, said the attacks marked "day zero" for Norway.

"It's a double shock. 99 percent of Norwegians immediately believed this was a Muslim terror attack. When it turned out not to be, that was the second shock," he said.

Police have charged a 32-year-old Norwegian with both the bombing and the shootings. His Facebook page describes him as a conservative Christian who owned an organic farming company.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)