LONDON -- Norway’s prime minister said Tuesday that he bore ultimate responsibility for the botched police response to last year’s bomb and shooting attacks by right-wing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik and vowed to take steps to prevent such mistakes in the future.
At a special session of the Norwegian parliament, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg accepted the findings of an independent commission’s report criticizing police failures that allowed Breivik to continue gunning down young people on Utoya island, near Oslo, while authorities struggled to get there. Sixty-nine people died on the island; another eight were killed earlier in the day by a car bomb Breivik detonated in downtown Oslo.
“For this I apologize,” Stoltenberg told lawmakers. “We can never correct mistakes of the past. But we can learn from the past, recognize that we made mistakes and do what we need to create a more secure future.”
His comments came four days after a court declared Breivik legally sane and criminally responsible for the mass killings of July 22, 2011, Norway’s worst peacetime atrocity. Breivik, 33, was handed 21 years in prison, the maximum permissible under Norwegian law, but the sentence can be repeatedly extended if he is deemed to pose a continued threat to society.
Breivik also apologized at his sentencing -– to other “militant nationalists in Norway and in Europe” for not having slain more people –- before the presiding judge cut him off
Stoltenberg said that the report’s conclusions were difficult to hear. As a heavily armed Breivik calmly hunted down victims on Utoya for about an hour, police were unable to fly there by helicopter because the chopper’s crew members were away on vacation. A boat ferrying officers over to the island was overloaded and stalled.
Norway’s police chief resigned after the report’s release earlier this month. Some critics have urged Stoltenberg to follow suit.
“I have ultimate responsibility for what went wrong and what went well in dealing with 22 July,” he acknowledged Tuesday, but added that the crucial issue now was to plug the holes exposed in Norway’s emergency preparedness.
He said that a new emergency response center would be established for police in Oslo, the capital, and that officers would receive greater training in how to deal with shooting attacks. Starting in January, military helicopters will become available to back up police when necessary.
Stoltenberg pledged to maintain the openness and freedom that Norwegians prize in their society and government but warned that there would inevitably be trade-offs with the demands of public security.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg addresses parliament Tuesday to discuss the independent commission report on the July 2011 attacks. Credit: Terje Bendiksby / AFP / GettyImages