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A terrorist attack has wounded or killed many people in downtown Oslo, Norway  (Source: Trond Lindholm/CNN)

The attack on the government buildings shocked the peaceful nation, which has one of the world's lowest crime rates and the highest standard of living.  (Source: Reuters/Holm Morten/Canpix)

Norwegian officials are still try to assess the extent of the damage and how many were killed. The prime minister of Norway is safe, fortunately, despite the blast hitting his usual office.  (Source: AFP/Getty Images)

It is suspected that the possible bombings were attacks triggered by the publication of this Danish cartoon that depicted the prophet Mohammed. Radical Islamic fundamentalists demanded killings in response to the publication. Norway, ranked first in a study on freedom of the press, was among those to republish it.  (Source: Wikipedia)
Over 19 people reported dead, reports indicate arrest of Norwegian national

At approximately 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, 4 p.m. in Norwegian time, Oslo, the nation's capital and largest city was rocked by a massive explosion.  The blast reportedly struck the main government building in Central Oslo.  And it's suspected that Norway has been the victim of a massive series of terrorist attacks.

(See update for new information on the nature of these attacks, and updated casualty figures.)

I. The Blast

The explosion was powerful enough to blow windows off the main government building, which housed the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and left several other government buildings in flames, including the Oil Ministry.

A second explosion reportedly hit Norway's Parliament building.

It was chaos on streets as hospitals rushed to try to treat the blast victims.  People were clutching victims, trying to comfort them as they bled.

A spokesperson for the downtown Legevakten Hospital commented to CNN, "Right now we are not too sure what has happened, we are watching the news and talking to the other hospitals. We don’t know what caused it or how many people are injured."

Nick Soubiea, an American-Swedish tourist in Oslo, recalls, "It was almost in slow motion, like a big wave that almost knocked us off our chairs. It was extremely frightening. There are people running down the streets, people crying, everyone's on their cell phones calling home."

A press officer at Oslo Police Station is quoted as saying, "There has been a bomb explosion in the government area. At least one person is dead and a number of people are injured, we don’t have the exact number yet."

The prime minister is fortunately reported to be safe.

Meanwhile, on the island of Utoeya, south of Oslo, there was an attack on an annual youth gathering of the prime minister's Labor Party.  A gunman disguised as a police officer opened fire on the children, injuring at least five of them.  It is unknown if the violent crime was related to the Oslo attacks, but given Norway's low crime rate, it seems distinctly possible.

The attacks bring to mind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the U.S. or November 26, 2008 in Mumbai, India.  Both of those organized attacks occurred in multiple places and triggered widespread fear and chaos.

II. Possible Attacks May Have Been Triggered by Radicals' Censorship Demands

Norway was among the nations who defied radical Muslims and reprinted cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed in an unflattering light.  The cartoons were originally published in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The Norwegian press defended the republication, pointing out that numerous other religious figures, including the Buddha, Jesus, Moses, and Shiva are often depicting in a mocking or unfavorable light in cartoons.  They also said that the cartoons were explicitly protected under the right to free speech.

The issue has ignited a fierce debate in Europe.  Many argued that the cartoons went too far.  Others say that the radical reaction and death threats that ensued, validated the publication.

In recent months Norway reportedly has seen an increase in chatter from suspected operatives of the militant fundamentalist Islamic group Al Qaeda.  In September 2010 a 37-year-old Iraqi Kurd was arrested and accused of plotting a terrorist bombing.

Norway is a remarkably peaceful and socially progressive country with only 23,000 active personnel in its armed forces, including civilian officials.  Norway has approximately 4.9 million people and it has the highest human development index (the combined average life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living) of any country in the world.

Norway also reportedly ranked first in freedom of the press and last in homicides.

Update: 

It now appears that the attacker may have been a lone actor and may not have been a radical Islamist.  A 32-year-old Norwegian man, reportedly a tall blonde native of the country, was arrested on Utoeya, and explosives were found as well.  He is suspected of committing both attacks.

The Washington Post reports 10 people are dead from the Oslo bombing, while CNN reports that at least 9 people (presumably mostly children) were killed in the shooting on the island.  The suspect reportedly used a semi-automatic weapon to gun down the children.

While it's possible that the man could have been a jihadist, this is seeming increasingly less likely as radical Islamists retracted initial statements claiming responsibility -- atypical in a real attack.

Norway also has a violently vocal right-wing Neo-Nazi movement, which has been highly critical of the government.  Thus it's possible that the attack could have been a hate crime, instead of religious extremism.

At least one report [translated] from 9 years ago details the arrest of a 23-year-old Neo-Nazi, who was carrying 1 kg of dynamite and semiautomatic handguns.  Local news have reportedly suggested this may be the man involved in the attack. (Thanks, todda7 for the tip!)




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