Norway police admit slow response during massacre
Committee leader Olav Soenderland, left, Police Director Oeystein Maeland, centre, and Oslo Chief of Police Anstein Gjengedal attend press conference in Oslo Thursday March, 15 2012. / AP Photo
(AP) OSLO, Norway - Norwegian police admitted for the first time Thursday that they could have responded faster to a youth camp shooting massacre that left 69 people dead in July.
Presenting the results of an internal evaluation, police officials said the response was slowed down by flaws in communication systems and other mishaps, including the breakdown of an overloaded boat that was carrying a SWAT team to the scene of the shooting on Utoya island.
Investigators say the confessed shooter, Anders Behring Breivik, set off a bomb in downtown Oslo, killing eight people, before he drove to a lake outside the capital and took a small ferry to summer retreat for the governing Labor Party's youth wing on Utoya. He was arrested 1 hour and 20 minutes later, according to the indictment presented last week.Terror, murder charges unveiled in Norway rampage
Complete Coverage: Massacre in Norway
"I regret we weren't able to arrest the suspect earlier than we did," Oslo Police Director Oeystein Maeland told reporters.
"Could police have been faster? The answer is yes," he said. "If the boat hadn't been over capacity, police would have been on Utoya faster," he said. "If it would have led to another and better result is nothing we know for sure, but we can't rule it out. And it's tough, like I've said before, to think that lives thereby would have been saved."
Police had earlier been reluctant to admit that they could have done anything differently in their response to the attacks, which were unprecedented in Norway.
A police helicopter was left unused during the massacre, and its vacationing crew was called in only after Breivik had surrendered.
"That should have been done faster," police inspector Anstein Gjengedal said.
The evaluation also praised the police officers involved in the operation for making "sound tactical assessment based on the information available to them."
But Magnus Ranstorp, a terror expert at the Swedish National Defense College, said the decision to wait for a SWAT team to arrive raises questions about how Norwegian police are trained to deal with an "active shooter."
"The most important thing you can do in this type of situation is to send two or three armed police officers to confront the perpetrator as quickly as possible," Ranstorp said.
Though he admits to carrying out the attacks, Breivik rejects the terror and murder charges he faces, saying the victims had betrayed Norway by embracing liberal immigration policies he claims will lead to a Muslim colonization.
Psychiatrists are evaluating the 33-year-old Norwegian's mental health to determine whether he should be sentenced to compulsory psychiatric care instead of prison. In either case, prosecutors say he could be locked up for the rest of his life.
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