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Friday, July 29, 2011

Week later, Norway mourns 77 victims of massacre

Horrific events in Norway this past weekend provide yet another powerful teachable moment in the ongoing and increasingly dangerous saga of religion becoming lethal. The murderous rampage by Anders Behring Breivik brings several important lessons more clearly into view.

First, religion is an extraordinarily powerful and pervasive force in human society. Throughout history, people within various religions have been motivated to their highest and noblest best actions. At the same time, some of the worst things human beings have done to one another have been done in the name of or justified by religion. Religion is a powerful force inspiring constructive and destructive behavior among believers.

Second, we live in a world with many weapons of mass destruction. Quite apart from the horrors associated with chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, we now know that a devious plan can utilize automatic weapons, fertilizer, box knives and commercial airplanes as weapons of mass destruction. Attacking a summer camp for youth vividly reminds us that there are many ways people bent on doing great harm can accomplish their goal.

Third, we now know with certainty that it doesn't take many people to wreak havoc on a wide scale. Breivik may have acted alone or within a small circle of cohorts, as did Timothy McVeigh. Nineteen men carried out the attacks of Sept. 11. Small numbers of zealots who are convinced they know what God wants for them and for everyone else are capable of almost anything.

After a funeral service in the Nesodden church outside the capital, Bano Rashid, a Kurdish immigrant from Iraq, was buried in a Muslim rite. Sobbing youth accompanied her coffin, which was draped in a Kurdish flag.

The attack will "not destroy Norway's commitment to democracy, tolerance and fighting racism," Labor Party youth-wing leader Eskil Pedersen said at a memorial service in Oslo.

Pedersen, who was on the island retreat of Utoya when the gunman's attack began, said: "Long before he stands before a court we can say: he has lost."

Pedersen said the youth organization would return to Utoya next year for its annual summer gathering, a tradition that stretches back decades.

Members of the audience raised bouquets of flowers as each speaker took the stage, and some of them fought back tears as they spoke.

Later, Stoltenberg spoke at a Muslim memorial service in Gronland, an immigrant neighborhood in Oslo. The prime minister called for unity across ethnic and religious lines, a message he has repeated many times since the attacks.

Breivik, a vehement anti-Muslim, was questioned by police Friday for the second time since surrendering to an anti-terror squad on Utoya, where his victims lay strewn across the shore and in the water. Many were teens who were gunned down as they tried to flee the onslaught.

In a 1,500-page manifesto released just before the attacks, Breivik ranted about Europe being overrun by Muslim immigrants and blamed left-wing political forces for making the continent multicultural.

Police attorney Paal-Fredrik Hjort Kraby said the Breivik remained calm and cooperative during the questioning session, in which investigators reviewed with him his statements from an earlier session on Saturday. Investigators believe Breivik acted alone, after years of meticulous planning, and haven't found anything to support his claims that he's part of an anti-Muslim militant network plotting a series of coups d'etat across Europe.

Police also said they have identified all of the victims, 68 of whom were killed on the island and eight who died after a car bomb exploded in downtown Oslo. Breivik has confessed to both attacks but denies criminal guilt because he believes he's in a state of war, his lawyer and police have said.

Police have charged Breivik with terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison. However, it's possible the charge will change during the investigation to crimes against humanity, which carries a 30-year prison term, Norway's top prosecutor Tor-Aksel Busch told The Associated Press.

"Such charges will be considered when the entire police investigation has been finalized," he said. "It is an extensive investigation. We will charge Breivik for each individual killing."

Prosecutors can also seek a special kind of sentence that would enable the court to keep Breivik in prison indefinitely. A formal indictment isn't expected until next year, Busch said.

A weapons supplier in Norway confirmed his company sold device that enables quick loading of magazines for a rifle and four 30-round clips for a Glock 17 pistol to Breivik, who ordered the equipment online in November and December last year.

Flemming Mark Pedersen, owner of Capsicum Solutions AS, said the purchase was legal and there was no indication of what Breivik was up to.

"But just like the police officer who approved his (gun) license, the company that provided him with fertilizer and the firm that sold him diesel, we feel guilty to a certain level and wonder whether this could have been prevented in some way," Pedersen told The Associated Press.

Since the attacks, immigrants and ethnic Norwegians have come together in grief for the victims, and with disdain for the attacker and his motives. A sometimes divisive debate about immigration has been put aside.

So many roses have been placed at makeshift memorials around Oslo and other Norwegian cities that domestic suppliers cannot keep up with demand. The government has suspended a tax on foreign roses to allow for more imports between July 26 and Aug. 2, Norwegian news agency NTB reported.

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