Bomb blast rocks downtown Oslo

A powerful explosion damaged government buildings in the center of the Norwegian capital. Shortly after the blast, a man dressed as a police officer opened fire at a Labor Party youth gathering near Oslo. Altogether 17 people are confirmed dead.

A car blew up at approximately 3:30 p.m. (1330 GMT), shattering the windows of the prime minister’s offices and also inflicting damage to nearby buildings housing oil- and finance-industry offices.

Witnesses reported that dozens of injured were lying in the streets covered in blood after the blast. Assistant Chief Constable Egil Vrekke of the Oslo police confirmed that there are “a lot” of casualties and said the rescue operation is ongoing.

Police say a dead body was found inside one of the government buildings hit by the blast. There have also been reports of a fire in the Oil Ministry building, which is located at the same site.

Norwegian State Secretary Kristian Amundsen said that several people were trapped following the bomb blast in Oslo. He added that the situation is the worst his country has seen. The terrorist attack was the biggest in Europe since the London bombings in 2005.

“This is a terror attack. It is the most violent event to strike Norway since World War II,” Geir Bekkevold, an opposition parliamentarian for the Christian People’s Party, told Reuters.

The blast occurred at the offices of the Norwegian newspaper VG, which is located not far from the prime minister’s office and other government facilities. The massive explosion shattered windows in a 17-story government building and led to the evacuation of office buildings near the prime minister’s headquarters.

Several Norwegian news outlets quoted police sources as saying that there may be two other bombs in the city that have not exploded. Police are searching the area to find them.

In central Oslo, the train station was evacuated, as was the headquarters of broadcaster TV2, because of suspicious packages. The city center has been closed off by the police.

The Norwegian news agency NTB says Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is safe, citing government spokeswoman Camilla Ryste. The prime minister gave a brief phone interview to Norwegian TV2 television, describing the situation as “very serious.” He refused to disclose his whereabouts, on then advice of the police. Oslo police said the explosion was caused by “one or more” bombs, one of them in a car parked next to a government building, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Norwegian TV2 is reporting that three people were arrested in Oslo and police are searching cars at Oslo’s airport. According to reports, Norwegian soldiers have taken up positions at crucial points in the capital.

A terrorist group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami (Helpers of the Global Jihad), issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, according to Will McCants, a terrorism analyst at CNA, a research institute that studies terrorism, The Guardian reported. The message said the attack was a response to Norwegian forces’ presence in Afghanistan and to unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad.

“We have warned since the Stockholm raid of more operations,” the group said, apparently referring to a bombing in Sweden in December 2010, according to McCants’ translation. “What you see is only the beginning, and there is more to come.”

The claim could not be confirmed.

­Gunman attacks Norwegian Labor Party youth gathering

­A gunman disguised as a police officer began shooting on Utoya Island just outside Oslo, where youth were attending a Labor Party conference. Many ran for their lives, but law enforcement officials said at least nine or 10 people were killed. Police managed to arrest the gunman.

Meanwhile, an eyewitness told Norway’s NRK broadcaster that he saw more than 20 bodies at the Utoya youth camp shooting, the Associated Press reported.

“We now have reports of a serious situation there – a critical situation on Utoya,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told TV2.

An eyewitness to the shooting who was on the mainland at the moment declared: “There is a little war going on out there,” The Guardian newspaper reported.

Labor Party spokesman Per Gunnar Dahl told the AP that “there has been an incident where a man dressed in a police uniform started shooting among the youngsters on the island. This created a panic situation where people started to swim from the island.”

The police are now onsite and have sealed off the area. Police fear there may be explosives at the Labor Party youth camp near Oslo, Reuters reported.

NRK State TV reported that the gunman who was arrested at the besieged Labor Party youth camp appeared to be a tall and blonde Norwegian. Police confirmed that despite the uniform, the hitman was not one of theirs.

They also believe the Oslo bomb blast and youth camp shooting are connected, according to NTB.

Norway might possibly have become a terrorists’ target because of its participation in NATO’s war in Afghanistan and in the current conflict in Libya. A year ago three men were arrested in Norway for planning to attack targets in the country.

Experts are debating why usually quiet Norway was targeted for this double attack.

Norway is widely known as one of Europe’s most peaceful countries. Reportedly there are no terrorist organizations there.

Still, the country is an active member of NATO and, in recent years, took part in military operations in Afghanistan and Libya. The Al Qaeda terrorist network repeatedly voiced its discontent with Norway’s political position.

Norwegian police often report arresting people suspected of terrorist activities. The blast comes as Norway deals with a homegrown militant conspiracy linked to al-Qaida. Two suspects are in jail awaiting charges.

Recently Norwegian prosecutors filed a terrorism charge against Mullah Krekar, founder of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who is accused of threatening to kill a former minister, Erna Solberg.

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