UPDATED: Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous rampage could have been prevented or shortened, various sources reveal.
Almost four weeks have passed since the twin attacks on Oslo and Utøya. 76 people are confirmed dead following the worst assault on Norway since WWII.
Whilst Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has established a independent committee of inquiry and the funerals continue, police are facing severe criticism for the way they handled the attacks.
Despite being filmed prior to the bombing, Breivik managed to drive to Utøya in his own car undetected, shooting unhindered for approximately one hour.
The police’s boat, used to carry Delta response unit special forces and equipment to the island, was so overloaded that the motor stopped after the craft started taking on water, forcing them to commandeer two other vessels.
At the time, Hønefoss Police Chief Sissel Hammer said she hoped the public would understand why it took so long for police to arrive, claiming, “the personnel have to be notified, they must put on protective gear, arm themselves, and get out to the area.”
Johan Fredriksen, Chief of Staff in Oslo Police, now admits they “inappropriately” chose a longer route. The journey was 3.64 kilometres, but it would have been possible to use an alternative route of 675 metres, NRK reports.
Praising Nordre Buskerud Police District personnel for “making the best out of a difficult situation” due to no “permanent resources for all of Norway’s inland fjords,” Officer Fredriksen refuses to speculate why police chose this particular route.
“The optimal solution is rarely present at the time. We must choose what is available based on actual conditions there and then.”
There were also major communications issues, both on Utøya and in Oslo. Police had to use unsecured analogue lines, emails, and faxes from the island. Moreover, ambulance personnel report Utøya has major gaps in emergency service network coverage.
Oslo Police admit many specially trained police never received orders to report for duty because of warning system failures either, despite the bombing. It is alleged very little has been done to improve communications problems since these were first identified during an anti-terror exercise in 2006. Norwegian police have been criticised for being underprepared in a report released two years ago.
“This [improving the flow of information] will be a challenge, as it has been with major incidents worldwide. Relaying the situation to all those necessary and communicating well in real-time has been shown to be, is, and will be an enormous test,” says Officer Fredriksen.
However, the central question surrounding events on Utøya remains as to why police did not use any helicopters at all.
They chose to drive to the island because “It was faster going by car, as we would have had to get a helicopter from the base down south,” acting Oslo Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim said following the massacre.
Norway’s only police helicopter was grounded for four weeks due to the summer holidays, but a Sea King rescue helicopter, which the military says can carry up to 10 people and equipment, was available at Voldsløkka in Oslo. This could have reached the island in less than 10 minutes.
“We doubt this would have really affected the timeline. It was health personnel that were responsible for it, not the police,” Officer Fredriksen tells TV2.
According to the broadcaster, flight crew reported for duty just 15 minutes following the bomb in Oslo. Senior police personnel initially told them it was not necessary, later calling them in 33 minutes following Breivik’s arrest.
“I wasn’t aware of this. The decision was taken in the heat of battle, and considering whether this was correct will have to be done in retrospect,” he says.
No helicopter also meant police were unable to use a sniper to stop or kill Breivik. Flying times from Gardermoen Airport to Oslo and Oslo to Utøya are approximately 14 and 8 minutes, respectively.
Senior officers argue the helicopter would not have helped save lives as it is mainly for observation, with no room for weapons or a sharpshooter.
“The police helicopter is not a platform for firearms support and has no load-bearing capacity for them. 720 Squadron based at Rygge Airport does,” Officer Fredriksen says to Dagsavisen.
Nevertheless, several anonymous police sources tell the paper the aircraft carries a crew of three, with one spare seat. They have been ordered not to discuss the issue.