An independent inquest into the mass killings in Norway last summer by a fanatical anti-Muslim extremist sharply rebuked the country’s police and intelligence services on Monday, saying they could have averted or at least disrupted his successful plot to bomb downtown Oslo and shoot unarmed people unimpeded at a summer youth camp.
The inquest by the panel, the July 22 Commission, named after the date of the massacre, said police had failed in their duty to protect the camp on Utoeya Island, where 69 people, most of them teenagers, were killed by the extremist, Anders Behring Breivik. The inquest also faulted police in Oslo, where hours earlier, Breivik had parked a van packed with explosives that killed eight people. He was seen in a getaway car that he had driven to the island, but police officers failed to share a description of the vehicle.
The 500-page report by the panel chronicled what amounted to a litany of errors and blunders at nearly every level of law enforcement in Norway, which was traumatized by the scale and audacity of the attacks. A number of top judicial and security officials have already resigned over the failure to thwart Breivik.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said he “deeply regretted” the failures outlined by the panel, which was given wide latitude by the government to examine evidence and interview witnesses.
Breivik bragged about the killings during his trial and asserted that he had acted to save Norway from multiculturalism. The verdict is expected on Aug. 24. Prosecutors have suggested that he be committed to psychiatric care instead of prison.
While much of what was contained in the inquest commission’s report was already known, it revealed that Norway’s internal intelligence service, the PST, had been informed by customs officials seven months before the attacks that Breivik had purchased a bomb-making chemical from Poland, but that the service did not act on that information.
The commission’s report was especially critical of the lapse by police officers in conveying crucial information after the bombing in Oslo.
“The nationwide message service failed seriously,” commission chairwoman Alexandra Bech Gjorv said. “Ten minutes after the bomb detonated, a person gave them information about a man in a police uniform holding a pistol, who was acting strangely. The person said he got into a gray van. He gave the license plate number.”
“The person who took this call knew this was important. She brought this information to the operations center,” she said. “This lay around for 20 minutes, once it was passed on it was not read until two hours later.”
By then, Breivik was already killing campers on the island.
The commission’s report also castigated what it described as a woefully slow police response once it became clear that Breivik was shooting people.
Helicopters were not mobilized, and offers of boats from private individuals were ignored, Gjorv said, adding: “This was completely unacceptable.”
She said a better response would have revealed that Breivik had been buying semi-automatic assault rifles and frequenting far right Web sites.
“Could he have been stopped? We can’t know for sure,” she said.
The commission recommended that semi-automatic weapons be banned, and Norwegian legislation on confidentiality be revised.