I’m starting to write this blog entry at 2123 CET on 22nd July 2011. We have known for a few hours that twin attacks have taken place in Norway – an explosion in central Oslo and a series of shootings at Utøya, an island in Tyrifjorden to the north east of Oslo where a Labour Party youth meeting was taking place.

Beyond that what do we actually know? Rather little, at least for sure. That’s indeed the position taken by Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg, who was calm and collected in a television statement (can’t find the video of it online), saying it was not known who or what was to blame, the priority was for everyone’s security, and people should remain calm. Spot on, and my good friend Bente Kalsnes who lives in Oslo agrees.

But what do you then get? 24 hour news channels start an endless stream of speculation about what may or may not have happened. As I’m in Cairo I’ve had an eye on Al Jazeera here, and they wheel out Justin Crump who blathers on about how ‘almost certainly’ this was an act of Al Qaeda terrorism, and how Islamic terrorists could view Norway as a means of pressuring other countries in NATO. In the meantime BBC’s Gordon Correra seems to be saying the same sort of thing, according to the BBC live text (I can’t watch BBC here, but I’m told BBC has not even shown Stoltenberg’s statement yet).

How about some people that know how Norwegian society works? Have been to Utøya to an event there? How can anyone fit a 1.85m high guy with blond hair doing the shooting into the theory that this is an islamic terrorist attack? That’s not to say this is not an islamic terrorist attack, but conversely we cannot say that it is either. We just don’t know yet! So why speculate?

In the meantime UK Foreign Secretary William Hague weighs in on Twitter:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/WilliamJHague/status/94458350565212160″]

Do we even know that for sure? Did we know it 2 hours ago when Hague wrote it?

Anyway, as ever in circumstances like this I have turned to social media, asking Norwegian friends like @finnmyrstad and @benteka what he knows, checking via Facebook that Siri Holland, a friend in the youth branch of the Norwegian Labour Party is OK, following the minute-by-minute updates from @runebak (who I don’t know, but friends re-tweeted), and in my own incremental way building up a picture of what’s going on using the collective wisdom of the people I follow, and the people they trust. It’s a much more nuanced, thoughtful and multi-faceted picture.

[UPDATE – 2210]
The excellent @runehak tweets:


The link mentioned – to Nationen – is here. This is the Google Translate:

New York (AP): Police believe after the NTB know that ersamme man is behindboth attacks. They suspect that this is not terrorism, but a local variant aimed atthe existing political system. [my emphasis] The police should be familiar with the environmentman is associated.PST is now working with the Oslo police in the investigation of both incidents.

– We still do not know what weapons he has used, or whether her husband have operated alone in both events or one of a group, said national police chief SverreSponheim said.

No guarantee this is any more accurate than any other speculation, but it does cast doubt on those immediately blaming jihadist groups.

[UPDATE – 2305]
Jens Stoltenberg has just been live on BBC World News at a press conference. He has been a model of careful words and steely determination. There has been not a word of idle speculation about who the perpetrator(s) are – he does not know and hence will not be drawn. Excellent.

[UPDATE – 2321]
Partial volte-face from BBC’s Gordon Corera from BBC’s Live Text? (BST to CET explains time difference)

2211: Gordon Corera Security correspondent, BBC News During the day, after an initial focus on an al-Qaeda link, the possibility of domestic extremism increasingly came into focus. The choice of targets – government buildings and a political youth rally – suggested a possible political agenda rather than the mass casualty approach typically employed by al-Qaeda.

Maybe you should not have been so swift to jump to conclusions at the start?


  1. Justin – thanks for the comment, most appreciated. I was struck that when Al Jazeera switches to analysing a developing story their use of social media was totally ignored. They are quite good at it normally, but Friday it was absent, and hence no way for ideas to be fed back to you for the story. Your account nevertheless shows the considerable challenge mainstream media has covering events like this!

  2. Excellent article Jon. Here in North America, the media immediately indulges in a frenzy of speculation, stirring up overreation when such an event occurs.

    It’s refreshing to see the Norwegian PM and media have a more cautious and responsible approach that does not create more hysteria.

    It would be of great benefit if our media took the same restrained approach.

  3. Justin Crump

    Jon, a fair call on the analytical community (clearly very much including myself!) jumping to conclusions. Fortunately I had the chance to be more nuanced later in the day, in writing for my Huff Post blog and indeed on various channels this morning. Ironic of course that the real motive for the attack seems to have been a reaction to Islamism, so entirely the flip side of the coin.

    One of the biggest problems yesterday was nearly 8 hours straight behind the camera not receiving some of the information coming in, which meant that my initial judgement was hardened and became overly embedded. It’s an interesting and keen lesson for me personally but what’s more important here is the fact that so many people did the same thing. What does this say about the mindset? Does this also imply an institutional focus on the closest threat, particularly with a vicious cycle in the media…?

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