(Photo: Reuters/Aleksander Andersen)
Days after the July 22 bombing and shooting in Norway that look the lives of 76 people, the performance of Norwegian police is being questioned. Some are saying that the SWAT team took too long to respond as Anders Breivik gunned down vacationers at Utoya Island.
At a conference, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg assured the public that there would be a security review of the organization and capacity of the police force. But he and other officials feel the police did the best they could.
Police Chief of Staff Johan Fredriksen commended the responders saying, “You can’t expect a better response.”
But many disagree, saying that a quicker response could have saved lives.
“Children were being slaughtered for an hour and a half and police should have stopped it much sooner,” Mads Andenas told the Huffington Post.
Andenas, a law professor at the University of Oslo has a niece who survived the shooting by hiding in the bushes, but lost one of his students in the massacre.
“The police action was too little too slow. The cold truth is that many children who died out there should not have died.”
According to Reuters, many civilians risked their lives in order to promptly aid those under attack and even the media reached the scene before police did.
Several delays caused the SWAT team to arrive an hour after the shooting began.
Seventeen minutes were spent waiting for a boat, but when it arrived it was not equipped to handle the weight of the officers dispatched along with their equipment. The boat’s engine became water logged and died and a boat borrowed from a nearby tourist got officers to the island half an hour after they’d already been in the area.
Olso’s sole helicopter was also not equipped to transport officers to the scene, having only four seats in the vehicle: two for pilots and one for a surveyor.
Despite setbacks, Breivik was apprehended and surrendered just two minutes after the SWAT team made it onto the island.
Much of the criticism comes from outside of Norway as citizens have come together in national solidarity and support.
“The general reaction has been that … this is an attack on all of us. That’s the typical reaction of a small, sparsely populated country that you have to band together,” Bernt Aardal, a political scientist at Norway’s Institute for Social Research told Reuters.
However, John Gearson, a terrorism and defense expert at the Department of War Studies and King’s College in London feels that officials and citizens are being too lax in their response to the mishaps that occurred during the rescue.
“I’m struck with how light the questioning of the (Norwegian) police is at the moment,” he said.
Known for being a peaceful country with little history of violence and a positive opinion of its police force, Norway has not seen this violent an attack since World War Two. Critics note that its history could be a factor in its unpreparedness to handle emergency situations.
“Norway is behind other Western European countries in adapting internal security structures and procedures to face terrorist challenges,” Fernando Reinares, the former senior anti-terrorism adviser of Spain has said, according to the Huffington post.
Reinares feels that had Norway had a more adept anti-terrorist unit, Breivik would have been identified well before the attack when he went to purchase “bomb-making ingredients and specialist weaponry.”
Prime Minster Stoltenberg insists that the country is in fact fully equipped to deal with situations of mass violence and that its openness should not be confused with naiveté.
“We are even more aware of any danger now than before the attack. But in general Norwegians want … to defend themselves against violence by showing that they are not afraid of violence.”