It looks like everyone's first guess (including ours) about the perpetrators of yesterday's terrorist attacks in Norway that killed 80 people -- that it was Islamist radicals -- was dead wrong.
Shortly before midnight on Friday, July 22, police arrested a 32-year-old Norwegian man who allegedly went on a murderous shooting spree at a Labor Party youth camp on the island of Utoya and may also be responsible for the horrific bombing in Oslo earlier in the day.
The man arrested for the attack has been identified as Anders Behring Breivik. Norwegian TV2 reports that Breivik belongs to "right-wing circles" in Oslo. Sources in Norway tell IREHR that Breivik has been known to write posts in right-wing internet forums in Norway, where he has described himself as a “nationalist” and has also written numerous screeds critical of Muslims.
The Associated Press reports that Breivik has a Glock pistol, a rifle and a shotgun registered in the Norwegian gun registry. According to his Facebook page (since taken down), in 2009 Breivik established a business called GeoFarm, which he claimed to be engaged in the cultivation of vegetables. Such a business would give him access to large amounts of fertilizer, which could be used in the making of explosives.
According to witnesses in Utoya, the gunman was dressed as a police officer and gunned down young people as they ran for their lives at a youth camp. Police said Friday evening that they've linked the youth camp shooting and Oslo bombing. Late Friday, police also tell Reuters that the killings are of "catastrophic dimensions", and that the total number dead from the attacks may rise above eighty, just on Utoya. Seven people are currently reported dead from the Oslo bomb blast, though that number may climb.
William MacLean at Reuters reports that the attack signals an intensification in right-wing extremist activity in Europe, which was already rising significantly in recent years:
A report that Norway's bomb and gun rampage may be the work of a far-right militant confronts Europe with the possibility that a new paramilitary threat is emerging, a decade after al-Qaida's Sept. 11 attacks.
One analyst called the attacks possibly Europe's "Oklahoma City" moment, a reference to American right-wing militant Timothy McVeigh who detonated a truck bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people.
Police forces in many western European countries worry about rising far-right sentiment, fueled by a toxic mix of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry and increasing economic hardship.
But violence, while sometimes fatal, has rarely escalated beyond group thuggery and the use of knives.
That may have changed in Oslo and on the holiday island of Utoya on Friday. Seven people were killed in a bombing in the capital — Western Europe's worst since the 2005 London al-Qaida-linked suicide attacks that killed 52 people — and at least 80 in a shooting rampage by a lake.
Independent Norwegian television TV2 reported on Saturday that the Norwegian man detained after the attacks had links to right-wing extremism.
Police were searching a flat in west Oslo where he lived, TV2 said.
"If true this would be pretty significant — such a far-right attack in Europe, and certainly Scandinavia, would be unprecedented," said Hagai Segal, a security specialist at New York University in London.
"It would be the European/Scandinavian equivalent of Oklahoma City — an attack by a individual (with extremist anti-government views, linked to certain groups) aimed at the government by attacking its buildings/institutions."
"The next key question is whether he was acting alone, or whether he is part of a group."
James Fallows has a tart reminder for those who, like Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, took that ounce of speculation and tried making a ton of speculative anti-Islamic hay out of it:
No, this is a sobering reminder for those who think it's too tedious to reserve judgment about horrifying events rather than instantly turning them into talking points for pre-conceived views. On a per capita basis, Norway lost twice as many people today as the U.S. did on 9/11. Imagine the political repercussions through the world if double-9/11-scale damage had been done by an al-Qaeda offshoot. The unbelievably sweeping damage is there in either case.
It's also a sobering reminder that, while we've been obsessing nationally over the supposed threat of Islamist radicals -- embodied by Peter King's haplessly myopic hearings on domestic terrorism -- the reality remains that right-wing extremist terrorism remains the most potent domestic-terrorism threat in America as well. Indeed, the number of violent domestic-terrorism incidents has been steadily rising for the past two years, but the threat has gone largely ignored. Indeed, the Obama administration has kowtowed to right-wing complaints by gutting our own government's intelligence-gathering capacities in this area.
We shouldn't assume that this is a problem isolated to Europe -- especially given the track record of right-wing extremists in the USA in recent years.