We need to watch for domestic terrorists


GEORGE BROWN/Off the Record

We can be excused for jumping to the hasty conclusion that the recent mass murder in Norway was the work of jihadist Muslim extremists.

In the 10 years since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, North Americans have been conditioned to expect any catastrophe greater than a multi-car pileup on the TransCanada Highway to be the work of al-Qaida.

The bombing in Oslo’s government centre and the shooting rampage at a youth camp on Utoya Island that soon followed, killing 77 innocent people, have been credited to Anders Behring Breivik, 32, a right-wing extremist. He is believed to be a homegrown radical and former member of the Progress party, Norway’s main opposition party. The Progress party has taken strong positions against what it sees as special rules for Norway’s growing number of Islamic immigrants and refugees.

While Norway has been involved in multinational military efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, these attacks were directed at domestic targets. The Oslo bomb exploded outside the prime minister’s office in the government district, and Utoya Island is owned by the ruling Labour party; the party organized the youth camp.

While evidence is still being gathered, it appears the attack in Oslo has more in common with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by one-hit wonder Timothy McVeigh than it does with the 9/11 airplane attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City and at the Pentagon in Washington by Osama bin laden.

In 2006 I was in Oklahoma City to attend the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) and our group had the privilege to tour to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. We also heard a presentation from David Cid, a counterterrorism specialist now the executive director of the National memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT).

Oklahoma City was the first major American city to suffer a mass casualty terrorist attack. To help international agencies better understand the terrorist’s mind, Oklahoma City’s response to the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was analyzed by security experts and law enforcement officials immediately following the bombing and the criminal trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and then again after the 9/11 attacks.

At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, a rented Ryder truck containing about 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane exploded in the street in front of the federal office building. The explosion, measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale, ripped through the building and also damaged more than 300 buildings in the surrounding area. The blast killed 168 people — 19 of them children— and injured hundreds.

Today the 3.3-acre site is a solemn memorial to national heroism and compassion.

In Oklahoma City in the spring of 1995, officials first thought the bomb was the work of bin Laden. Within 90 minutes of the bombing, McVeigh was arrested for driving a car without a license plate and for being in possession of a gun. Two days later, just as he was about to be released on those charges, he was recognized as a suspect in the bombing. McVeigh was found guilty of 11 counts of murder and conspiracy and executed. Nichols was found guilty of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison.

What do terrorists want? Unlike the airplane hijackers in the 1970s or radical groups who kidnapped heiresses or assassinated political figures such as Anwar el-Sadat in 1981, today’s anti-West terrorists commit their deadly jihad attacks because they want to create a world dominated by Muslims, Islam and Islamic law. According to Cid, these Muslim terrorists want to re-establish caliphate to counter what they see as a Western empire dominated by the United States and Jewish governments. McVeigh’s bombing attack was to avenge the deaths of 80 Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas whom he believed were murdered by agents of the federal government. The attack took place on the second anniversary of the Waco incident.

Anders Behring Breivik has been pigeonholed as xenophobic and his rampage as an attack against multiculturalism. Norway is seen as a generally peaceful country; with its relatively healthy economy and welfare programs, it has become a beacon to immigrants looking for security. Europe, and Scandinavia more recently, has begun to push back against the demographic shift, open immigration, and especially against Muslims. But Breivik did not attack Muslims; he attacked those people and institutions he thought were conspiring with Muslims to take over Norway. His goal was to arouse fear of Islam among Norwegians by disparaging the Muslim faith.

Already blinded by large-scale terrorist acts by radical Islamists, al-Qaida or anyone else, our leaders and our police cannot afford to lose sight of terrorism and extremism already within our borders.