The Norwegian capital has fallen prey to what is believed to be a coordinated terror attack: A blast tore through Oslo's government plaza and shortly afterwards, a gunman opened fire on a youth camp just outside the city. Multiple fatalities and casualties have been reported in each case.
A massive explosion rocked central Oslo Friday afternnon, killing seven people and injuring a dozen others. The blast severely damaged several government buildings, including the Prime Minister’s Office. Government spokeswoman Camilla Ryste said that Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was unharmed.
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According to CBS News, a group called "Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami," or "Helpers of Global Jihad," claimed responsibility for the bombing. The group is believed to be that same local extremist group the December 2010 Stockholm bomber was affiliated with.
The group said the bombing came in retaliation for Norway's military presence in Afghanistan, and for unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad: “We have warned since the Stockholm raid of more operations… What you see is only the beginning, and there is more to come.”
The report was not confirmed by Oslo authorities.
At least 10 people were seriously injured in the massive explosion, which according to eyewitnesses damaged buildings in a radius spanning several hundred yards. One eyewitness said he saw the blast shatter almost all windows of a 17-storey highrise. Another eyewitness described the scene as "total chaos." The injured were rushed to Oslo University Hospital.
Police have sealed off the area, fearing there are other explosive devices on the site. They have told people in the Norwegian capital to stay away from the city centre and limit the use of mobile phones.
Norwegian authorities confirmed that the explosion was the result of a bomb. The investigation is currently focusing on the possibility of a terror attack; although police sources stressed that it was "too early to speculate."
Scene of the explosion (Photo: Reuters)
Oslo sources told Sky News that the caustic odor of sulfur present at the scene of the explosion has investigators looking into the possibility that the explosive device was made of, or included, fertilizer.
According to Norway's NRK TV, the explosion appears to have taken place near the Ministry of Finance, in close proximity to the building housing the headquarters of the Norwegian Prime Minister.
Nearby offices were evacuated, including those housing some of Norway's leading newspapers and news agency NTB. Some of them were also severely damaged.
The suspected car bomb (Photo: AP)
Norwegian Premier Stoltenberg issued a statement Friday evening, saying that all cabinet ministers were safe: "This is very serious," he told Norwegian TV2 television.
Stoltenberg stressed that it was "too early to say if the blast was a terrorist attack," and added that for security reasons, the police advised him not to say where he was speaking from.
He later added that Oslo "will find those responsible and hold them accountable."
Some three hours after the blast, a gunman dressed as a policeman opened fire at a Labor Party youth camp outside Oslo.
A spokesman for Norway's Labor Party confirmed that its youth camp in Utoeya, an island south of Oslo where the party's youth section's yearly gathering was taking place, had come under attack.
Oslo Police Chief Anstein Gjengdal confirmed that anti-terror units were dispatched to the area. Norway's NRK TV reported the police had apprehended the gunman.
Initial reports from the site suggests over 30 were feared dead, but Oslo Police have so far confirmed only 10 fatalities.
Authorities believe the man arrested at the camp site is linked to the bombing in Oslo: Details pertaining to the investigation suggest that a man dressed in police uniform was spotted leaving Oslo's government plaza shortly before it was hit by the explosion.
Scene of the blast (Photo: EPA)
'A cowardice, heinous act'
In a press conference held Friday night, Norway's Justice Minister Knut Storberget said that the shooter was Norwegian, further confirming that Police have linked the suspect to both attacks.
The EU condemned the "cowardly" attacks, which came as the Scandinavian country has grappled with a series of homegrown terror plots linked to al-Qaeda, and six years after an uproar over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in neighboring Denmark.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said he was "deeply shocked" by the attacks: "I condemn in the strongest terms these acts of cowardice for which there is no justification.
"I have sent a message of condolences and solidarity from the European Union to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the people of Norway," he said in a statement.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the blast a "heinous act."
The United States also condemns the "despicable acts of violence" in Oslo. Washington expressed its sympathy to the Norwegian government over the Oslo bombing and offered aid, but so far Norway has not requested help.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with official in Oslo's government and conveyed Israel's condolences to the families of those injured and killed in the attacks.
Barak offered Oslo Israel's assistance, but Norway has not requested help at this time.
AP, Reuters and AFP contributed to this report
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