Norway mourns 77 dead a decade after extremist attack

Church bells rang out across Norway today to mark the 10th anniversary of the country’s worst peacetime slaughter as leaders urged renewed efforts to fight the extremism behind the attack that left 77 people dead.

Relatives of a victim gather to observe a minute's silence on a campsite jetty on the Norwegian mainland, across the water from Utoya island. Source: Associated Press

On July 22, 2011, a right-wing extremist set off a bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people. Then he headed to tiny Utoya island, where he stalked the mostly teen members of the Labor Party's youth wing, killing another 69.

Events were held across the country, including a service in Oslo Cathedral that ended with an initial ringing of bells. Thousands of people gathered outside to mourn the victims.

Fourteen-year-old Palmerston North-born Sharidyn Svebakk-Bohn, known as Sissi, was one of those gunned down on Utoya Island in 2011. She had been living in Norway since she was a baby.

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Arriving on crutches, 84-year-old King Harald took his seat for the service beside Queen Sonja at the front of the cathedral for a minute of silence.

Speaking in front of 77 roses arranged in the shape of a heart, Jens Stoltenberg, who was prime minister at the time of the attack, told the congregation that “10 years ago, we met hatred with love, but the hatred is still there”.

“The perpetrator was a right-wing extremist. He misused Christian symbols. He grew up in our streets, belonged to the same religion and had the same skin colour as the majority in this country. He was one of us," Stoltenberg said.

“But he is not one of us, who respects democracy. He is one of those who believe they have the right to kill for their political objectives.”

Emotional survivors read aloud the names of the victims at a televised memorial event.

Some parents of the victims reflected on how the country coped with the slaughter, saying that “time does not heal all wounds".

“(The victims) would be proud of how we reacted after the terror and how the rule of law stood strong,” said Lisbeth Kristine Roeyneland, whose daughter, Synne, was killed. Roeyneland now runs the national support group for victims and families.

“What would those who were so brutally and unfairly killed think of us now 10 years later? I think they would be sad to know that there still are survivors and bereaved with great needs," Roeyneland said.

“I think they would be disappointed in seeing the public debate in many ways has moved in the wrong direction," she added. "I also think they would be proud of us. Proud of how we reacted in the days after the terrorist attack and how our state under the rule of law firmly stood its ground in the face of brutality.”

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Vanessa Svebakk and her whānau are remembering the 14-year-old NZ-born girl, 10 years after she was killed in a Norway terrorist attack. Source: 1 NEWS

Astrid Hoem, a survivor from Utoya who leads the AUF, the youth wing of the center-left Labor Party, said, “We have not stopped the hatred”, and urged Norway to face up to the racism in the country.

“It is so brutal that it can be difficult to fathom," Hoem said. “But it’s our responsibility to do so. Because 10 years on, we must speak the truth. We haven’t stopped the hatred. Far-right extremism is still alive. The terrorist was one of us.”

She spoke to a group of mourners, including Crown Prince Haakon, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, survivors and families of the victims.

Solberg said it hurt to think back “on that dark July day” and added: “We must not leave hate unchallenged."

“The terror attack on the 22nd of July was an attack on our democracy,” said Solberg, who has been prime minister since 2013. “It was a politically motivated terrorist act towards the Labor Party, AUF and their ideas. But it wasn’t just an attack on a political movement. A whole nation was struck. But we rose again. But Norway was changed by an experience which still causes pain.”

At a commemorative event on Utoya, Haakon said Norwegians must work together to fight right-wing extremism.

“It is our personal and collective responsibility to work against these forces every day,” he said.

Small boats dotted the water around the island, a reminder of attempts by many residents to rescue people 10 years ago while the gunman fired toward them.

Dignitaries laid flowers at a memorial, inscribed with the names of 69 victims who were killed on the island.

The flowers have become a symbol of the country’s response to the attack, when roses were piled outside Oslo Cathedral in the days after the slaughter.