Oslo: Part 2

Friday evening was really surreal. We sat in our hotel room after our brief excursion, watching the news and trying to figure out what the hell happened. It became apparent fairly quickly that the major news broadcasters were running with the Al-Qaeda angle, with security “experts” on the BBC making stupid speculations about why Islamic extremists would target Norway, without even considering the likelihood that they hadn’t. I was keeping an eye on Twitter, as usually this is the best way of gathering information as it’s actually happening. Unfortunately most of the links being sent around were to mainstream media reports of Islamic terror, but gradually people started talking about a shooting somewhere near Oslo.

I assumed (as there was very limited information at this point) that the perpetrator had fled and there was a shoot out with police or something, as this seemed like the most obvious conclusion. I’d never have thought it was a pre-planned massacre of children.

We decided that as the news was just full of blind speculation and Twitter wasn’t giving anything more useful, so we might as well get out and see the parts of the city that weren’t cordoned off. The Foreign Office had issued its usual unhelpful advice to “stay inside and avoid public gatherings” which seemed ridiculous as the car bomb hadn’t occurred at a public gathering and being inside doesn’t protect you from danger.

The rain had stopped so we walked round the areas we had been earlier that day so I could take some photos, and the atmosphere was, as expected, very peculiar. People were out and about, but there was a definite sense of introspection and disbelief in the air. There was still broken glass all over the place and the sound of sirens was almost constant, but glaziers were already hard at work for the benefit of businesses and the public.

Occasionally the sound of smashing glass would echo down the streets, but as there weren’t many cars on the road due to the cordons, it was easy enough to avoid. The army were out in force, cordoning off roads near the explosion as well as those which were still covered in glass shards, and there were armed police dotted about. Unlike in London or New York however, they were talking to the public and seemed quite approachable rather than being silent, intimidating sentinels. To me this really showed just how much innocence there was left to lose in this peaceful place.

We walked around for a few hours but it was quite difficult to go anywhere in particular as there were cordons everywhere so we saw what we could and headed back to the hotel again. By this time the news had dropped pretty much all talk of “terror” “Islam” and “extremism” and was now talking about a lone maniac intent on mass murder. Not quite sure how this was no longer terrorism or extremism, but I guess it leaves a bad taste in certain peoples’ mouths applying these terms to a blonde white guy who doesn’t speak Arabic.

It was very apparent that the car bomb was the worst thing to happen to Norway in a very long time, so for that to be outdone within 2 hours made the situation utterly unbelievable. It was a horrific addendum to an already sickening event, and as the hours passed, yet more atrocities kept on coming to light.

  • A massive car bomb in a city centre
  • City-wide damage to buildings
  • Multiple injuries
  • A shooting a few miles away
  • On an island
  • Full of children
  • By a man dressed as a police officer
  • With multiple weapons
  • Children throwing themselves into the water to escape
  • Children hiding in bushes, toilets and on cliff-sides
  • Children playing dead amongst corpses to avoid being slaughtered

And as the body count slowly began to rise, the situation became literally unbelievable. We eventually managed to get some sleep, but the next morning we were horrified to discover that it had risen from an estimation of 10-15 deaths to eighty four. Plus those who had been killed in the initial explosion.

I tried to find out if there was anything we could do to help, but we couldn’t even donate blood because we’re British (also, Matt donated recently and I’m a malaria risk). So instead we decided to help the economy and try to attempt some tourism. Most of the shops were closed due to either damage or mourning, but the boat tours were running so we hopped on a sightseeing cruise of the fjord, away from TV screens and Twitter for 2 peaceful hours.

The mood was obviously very sombre, but the girl who talked us through the tour was cheerful and informative, and it was genuinely very uplifting to see the colourful summerhouses dotted over the islands while the Norwegian flag fluttered at half mast.

 

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