Norway mourns 77 dead a decade after extremist attack

People lay roses outside Oslo Cathedral, on the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack by Anders Breivik, in Oslo, Thursday, July 22, 2021. Photo Courtesy: AP

OSLO, Norway (AP): Church bells rang out across Norway on Thursday, marking 10 years since the country’s worst ever peacetime slaughter as leaders urged their country to fight the extremism that was behind the attack.

On July 22, 2011, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik set off a bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people, before heading to tiny Utoya island where he stalked and shot dead 69 mostly teen members of the Labor Party’s youth wing.

Events were held around the country, including a service in Oslo Cathedral that ended with the first peal of bells. Thousands of people gathered in the streets outside to mourn the 77 victims.

Arriving on crutches, 84-year-old King Harald took his seat for the service beside Queen Sonja at the front of Oslo Cathedral as the country observed a minute’s silence.

Speaking in front of 77 roses arranged into the shape of a heart, Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s prime minister at the time of the attacks in 2011, told the congregation that “10 years ago we met hatred with love, but the hatred is still there.”

“The perpetrator was a right-wing extremist. He misused Christian symbols. He grew up in our streets, belonged to the same religion and had the same skin color as the majority in this country. He was one of us,” Stoltenberg said.

“But he is not one of us, who respects democracy. He is one of those who believe they have the right to kill for their political objectives.”

Around the country, people listened as emotional survivors read aloud the names of the victims at a televised memorial event.

Some parents of the victims reflected on the way the country coped with the slaughter, and said that “time does not heal all wounds.”

“(The victims) would be proud of how we reacted after the terror and how the rule of law stood strong,” said Lisbeth Kristine Roeyneland, whose daughter Synne was murdered by Breivik. Roeyneland now runs the national support group for victims and families.

“What would those who were so brutally and unfairly killed think of us now 10 years later? I think they would be sad to know that there still are survivors and bereaved with great needs,” Roeyneland said.

“I think they would be disappointed in seeing the public debate in many ways has moved in the wrong direction,” she added. “I also think they would be proud of us. Proud of how we reacted in the days after the terrorist attack and how our state under the rule of law firmly stood its ground in the face of brutality.”

Astrid Hoem, a survivor from Utoya who now leads the AUF, the youth wing of the center-left Labor Party, said “we have not stopped the hatred” and urged Norway to continue facing up to the racism in the country.

“It is so brutal that it can be difficult to fathom,” Hoem said. “But it’s our responsibility to do so. Because 10 years on, we must speak the truth. We haven’t stopped the hatred. Far-right extremism is still alive. The terrorist was one of us.”

She was speaking to a group of mourners, including Crown Prince Haakon, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, survivors and families of the victims.

Solberg said it hurt to think back “on that dark July day” and added: “We must not leave hate unchallenged.”

“The terror attack on the 22nd of July was an attack on our democracy,” Solberg, Norway’s prime minister since 2013, said. “It was a politically motivated terrorist act towards the Labor Party, AUF and their ideas. But it wasn’t just an attack on a political movement. A whole nation was struck. But we rose again. But Norway was changed by an experience which still causes pain.”

At a commemorative event on Utoya, Haakon said Norwegians must work together to resist right-wing extremism.

“It is our personal and collective responsibility to work against these forces every day,” he said.

Small boats peppered the water around the island, a reminder of attempts by many local residents to rescue people 10 years ago while Breivik fired into the water towards them.

Dignitaries laid flowers at a suspended steel memorial, inscribed with the names of the island’s 69 victims.

The flowers have become a symbol of the country’s response to the attacks when a sea of roses was laid outside Oslo Cathedral in the days after the slaughter.