Norwegian police could have stopped Anders Behring Breivik sooner, cutting short his shooting rampage on Utoya Island, a government-appointed commission found in a report released Monday.
The haunting report comes more than a year after 77 people lost their lives in twin attacks, some slain in the bombing of government headquarters in Oslo, most gunned down at a youth camp run by a leftist party. The bombing and massacre were described in the independent report as "one of the most shocking and incomprehensible acts ever experienced in Norway."
Breivik has admitted to the killings but argues that they were justified to defend Norwegian culture from being overrun by immigrants; his sentence is expected to center on whether he is insane.
"It is the perpetrator and no one else who is to blame for the loss of 77 precious human lives," the report stated. Nonetheless, it lamented that "there were failures in important areas," several of which it said had already been pointed out in earlier reports and not addressed.
Breivik first set off a car bomb on July 22, 2011, outside the government complex, killing eight, before heading to the island to carry out a shooting spree that lasted more than an hour.
The bombing could have been prevented if officials had been using security measures that had already been adopted, the report concluded. Seven years earlier, Norwegian officials had planned to protect the building against attacks, but a key road had not been closed off long after plans to do so were approved. Roadblocks were supposed to be set up to prevent terrorists from fleeing after a bombing, but the plans weren't put into place during the attacks.
Police struggled to communicate, slowing officers as they tried to reach the island and halt the massacre. Relying on phone calls to mobilize crews cost them valuable time, the report said. Police cars lacked electronic mapping systems, and officers "did not have access to even the simplest technology" to send written information to each other, it said.
Other blunders were even more alarming: Someone phoned in a tip describing the gunman after the Oslo bomb was detonated, but police didn't follow up on the information for two hours. Two police officers arrived early at the shore, but waited for others instead of hustling to get a boat and cross to the besieged island, the report said, according to European news reports.
After Norwegian helicopters were reassigned to Afghanistan, police got less access to emergency aircraft, but nothing was done to make up for the shortfall, the report said. The only police chopper available during the Utoya attack sat idle, lacking a crew, it said.
"It took too long to arrest the perpetrator. Police could have reached Utoya faster. These are circumstances I deeply regret," Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was quoted Monday by the Associated Press. Top security and police officials have been replaced since the attacks, Reuters reported.
Yet the sobering report also warned that if things had been ever so slightly different, the nightmarish day could have been far worse than it was. More police were available than usual on that Friday afternoon because the bombing attack had already mobilized their forces.
The report also pointed to problems stretching beyond the day of the attacks. It called for a total ban on semiautomatic weapons, saying Norwegian guns aren't adequately registered or regulated. Intelligence information should be shared more smoothly to detect terrorists, it said.
The devastating attacks shook Norway and focused new attention on extremism on the European right. Months after the traumatic episode, the Breivik trial upset many Norwegians again because the admitted killer was allowed to expound on his ideas in court, gaining the media platform he had craved. His sentence is expected later this month.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Alexandra Bech Gjoerv, leader of a Norwegian government-appointed commission that examined authorities' response to the attacks by Anders Behring Breivik, speaks during a news conference in Oslo on Monday. Credit: Stian Lysberg Solum / NTB Scanpix / Associated Press