I had intended this blog to be mostly about political issues in the Caucasus and Central Asia, which are my main areas of interest and concern, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. First I have to say that I express my grief for those who were killed and wounded in the combined bombing and shooting in Oslo and at Utøya Island not far from the capital yesterday, and that my thoughts and condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims. These acts of terror came as a great shock to me and everybody else, although given the current era and the international situation Norway finds itself in, I have suspected something like this would happen eventually.
However, recent information coming to light about one of the probable assailants behind these attacks has confirmed a hunch I have had since the beginning, that these attacks were not committed by Islamic radicals with ties to international terror networks like Al-Qaida as initially suggested by most commentators and media, but rather by homegrown right-wing extremists. It now turns out that 32-year old ethnic Norwegian and self-styled nationalist Anders Behring Breivik has been arrested for the shootings at Utøya, and that he is also being connected to the bomb blast taking place earlier outside the main government building in Oslo. According to the police, Breivik had taken on ultra-conservative leanings in his late 20s, and had recently posted various extreme opinions on the internet attacking Islam and multiculturalism.
From the very first moment I heard about the terror attacks in Norway, it struck me that the attacks did not fit very well the profile of an Al-Qaida attack. Firstly, the bomb which blew up outside the government HQ was designed to go off on a Friday afternoon in the middle of the holiday season, a time when both the city centre and government offices would be largely empty. This does not correspond well to the signature Al-Qaida attack, which is typically carried out in crowded places during rush hour to maximise civilian casualties. On the other hand, the bomb attack did a large amount of property damage to symbolic political targets in the blast radius, damaging both the main seat of the current Centre-Left Norwegian government, the centres of Norway’s economic and state power in the form of the Minstry of Finance and Ministry of Oil and Energy, the Supreme Court, and also the buildings of the so-called “A-pressen” an agglomeration of the largest left-wing and liberal news outlets in Norway.
The choice of the second target was also quite peculiar, as it involved a shooting at a youth camp organised annually by the governing Labour Party. This camp is seen in Norway as the main yearly gathering of the future Norwegian left-wing elite, and it does not make sense as a target if the main grievances of the attackers were Norway’s pro-American foreign policy or involvement in the wars in Afghanistan or Libya. Exactly the choice of a such a peculiar target and the mode of operation – a shooting spree by a lone gunman – (not typical Al-Qaida modus operandi to say the least) was what alerted me to the notion that these attacks might not actually be related to Islamic radicalism at all, but rather to homegrown right-wing extremism.
It is clear that the ultra-nationalist right has been on the rise in Norway over the last few years. A recent threat assessment by the PST, the main Norwegian domestic intelligence agency, identified growing Islamic radicalism and right-wing extremism as the two main areas of concern. Appart from recent attempts to revitalise neo-Nazi groups in Norway, it states that right-wing radicals in Norway have been particularly active in the new social media, and indicates that individuals and groups mobilising around an anti-Muslim agenda have been receiving increased support.
The current left-wing establishment in Norway is often reviled by many on the right as being too permissive towards immigration, in particular from Muslim countries, and for the alleged failure of the Norwegian multicultural experiment. In light of this it now seems very likely that yesterday’s attacks was an attempt by extreme right-wing elements to strike directly at the “socialist” underpinnings of Norwegian domestic policy, and was designed to make a definitive statement in the “culture wars” of contemporary Europe. I surely hope that more details on the motivation and background on what now looks like Norway’s Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices will be forthcoming shortly, and that this tragedy will not turn out to be the beginning of a new trend in the debate about Islam and multiculturalism in Norway and Europe.