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Massacre in Norway could have been prevented: report

Norwegian police and security services could have prevented all or part of an attack by far-right militant Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a bombing and gun massacre last year, a government commission said on Monday.

Intelligence services could have learned about Breivik’s plans months before the attack that made him the worst mass killer in Norway’s peacetime history, the commission’s report said.

The government building he bombed should have been better protected and he should have been stopped before he gunned down dozens of victims, mostly teenagers, on an island as police struggled to find a working helicopter and a suitable boat.

“The authorities’ task to protect the people on Utoeya failed. A quicker police action was possible. The perpetrator could have been stopped earlier on July 22,” Commission chair person Alexandra Bech Gjorv said.

On the afternoon of July 22 last year,  Breivik set off a bomb outside the government building in Oslo, killing eight before driving to Utoeya island where he gunned down 69 people —mostly teenagers — at the ruling Labour Party’s summer camp.  

Gjorv listed what the commission had found lacking.

“Where it failed primarily was in the ability to assess risk and learn from exercises. The ability to see through what has been decided and to use the plans one has developed had been too weak. The ability to coordinate and interact has been lacking the potential of information and communication technology have not been utilized well enough. And finally, the leadership’s ability and will to clarify responsibility, establish goals and measures to achieve results have been inadequate,” she said.

The commission’s recommendation was for management to review the structures in their organizations.

“The commission’s most important recommendation is that leaders at all levels, and this of course includes the top political leadership, systematically work with strengthening their own and the organizations’ basic conduct and culture in connections to risk awareness, the ability to carry through, coordination, technology usage and result-orientated leadership,” Gjorv said.   

Gjorv said the commission had come up with six main findings and 31 unanimous recommendations.

Some recommendations were regarding the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) which has been criticized for its slow response on the day of the attacks.

“The important thing is that the PST (Norwegian security police) make sure that they have the resources to do a good job but it is just as important that PST’s employees and leadership take the challenge in regards to a new work methodology, effectiveness, increased commitment to reveal unknown threats and significantly closer cooperation with other agencies,” she said.

An example of a missed opportunity by the PST to stop Breivik, was that the PST had received information about Breivik buying chemicals, but that tip was never looked in to.

“After many months with many ‘ifs and buts’, finally in April it was handed to the only person at the PST who was working with weapons and chemicals — part-time.

“He was going on leave and was therefore not able to look in to it in time. The plan was to do so in August — nine months after receiving the tip-off,” Gjorv said.

Another recommendation by the 10-member independent commission was the ban on semi-automatic weapons.

“We have many weapons in our country and the registration and control of weapons is weak, the risk level is thereby higher than what we were aware of. The commission proposes a ban on semi-automatic weapons,” Gjorv said.

The government launched the commission a few weeks after the attacks and the objective was to ensure that Norwegian society was prepared in the best possible way to face any future attacks.

The commission’s finding are a major embarrassment for security forces but the justice minister and security chief at the time have both resigned since the attack, while many of the senior police personnel involved have also been replaced.