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2011-07-26

Eyewitness to Norwegian Massacre: Survivor Recalls Attack at Island Youth Camp

Guests

Ali Esbati, was on Norway’s Utoya Island Saturday where he was an eyewitness to the alleged attack by Anders Breivik and escaped by diving into the water. Esbati was there to give a workshop. He is an economist with the Manifest Center for Social Analysis, a Norwegian think tank.

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Norwegian police have widened their investigation into Friday’s mass killing after the alleged shooter, Anders Behring Breivik, told a court in Oslo on Monday that he had "two further cells" in his organization. During the hearing, Breivik accepted responsibility for the attacks but denied charges of terrorism. Norwegian media reports that if he is convicted of crimes against humanity, he could receive a 30-year sentence. At least 76 people were killed and 96 others wounded when Breivik allegedly set off a bomb outside government buildings in Oslo and then opened fire on a Labour Party summer camp for youth activists. We are joined from Oslo by Ali Esbati, one of the survivors of the shooting. He is an economist who was at the camp on Norway’s Utoya Island to give a workshop and escaped the shooting by diving into the water. "I saw a young girl, 18 or 19, who had been shot, and she kept repeating that 'If I die here, please remember that you're all fantastic, and keep up your struggle.’" [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Norwegian police have widened their investigation into Friday’s mass killing after the lone suspect claimed he acted with collaborators. The suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, told a court in Oslo, Norway, on Monday that he had "two further cells" in his organization. During the hearing, he accepted responsibility for the killings but denied charges of terrorism. Breivik is facing terror-related charges that carry a maximum 21-year sentence. Norwegian media reports that if Breivik is convicted of crimes against humanity, he could receive a 30-year sentence.

At least 76 people and were killed, and another 96 wounded, when Breivik allegedly set off a bomb outside government buildings in Oslo and then opened fire on a Labour Party summer camp for youth activists on a nearby island. Breivik has been described as an anti-Islamic, right-wing extremist who claimed to be acting in order to save Norway and Europe from, quote, "Marxist and Muslim colonization," unquote.

More than 100,000 Norwegians rallied in Oslo Monday night, many carrying white and red roses, to mourn the dead and show unity after the tragedy.

KRISTINE KONSMO: I think it’s important to show that Norway is really united as a country, not just as the city of Oslo, but a whole nation, and that you see that there’s people from all over, people who are native to Oslo and people who are from other parts of Norway who just got in their car and drove down here, and people who immigrated here. And it’s just so nice to see everybody so calm and together, and just this big warm feeling.

AMY GOODMAN: Tens of thousands of others also rallied in Norway’s major cities, from Tromsoe to Bergen. Norway’s justice minister is scheduled to meet today with police chiefs who are facing criticism for taking more than an hour to stop the shooting spree in which 68 people, mostly teenagers, were shot after a bomb in Oslo killed eight.

We go right now to Oslo, Norway, to be joined by one of the survivors of the shooting. Ali Esbati was on Norway’s Utoya Island on Saturday, where he was an eyewitness to the alleged attack by Anders Breivik. It happened Friday. Esbati was there to give a workshop. He’s an economist with the Manifest Center for Social Analysis, a Norwegian think tank.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you describe what happened on Friday?

ALI ESBATI: Thank you. Well, when the shooting started, we had already received news about the bombing in Oslo, so the atmosphere was quite tense and sad at the moment. So when there were some noises starting, I thought, like many others, that people were overreacting, perhaps, to them, and it took a while before we understood that there was real shooting going on. So people came running from other parts of that building, where Anders Breivik apparently had entered, and screamed that we should leave the building. So, I ran out of the building. And just after that, when I was heading down a slope, I looked back and saw two bodies lying down on a field just outside the building. So, at that point, I understood that this was a real shooting going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, can you describe what this Labour Party youth camp was? And also talk about why you were there.

ALI ESBATI: Well, this is an annual event with a very long, long tradition with the Social Democratic Party. Lots of other youth organizations also have summer camps, but this is like an iconic summer camp being held at the same island for many, many decades. And basically, young people gather. They have a lot of fun, but they also listen to political workshops. They hang around. They discuss if there’s an upcoming election campaign and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the shooter, Anders Breivik, you, Ali Esbati, actually saw him, is that right? Can you continue to describe what happened when you ran out of the building, realizing in fact that the shooting was happening there, it wasn’t just people responding to hearing about the bomb attack in Oslo that had occurred earlier?

ALI ESBATI: Yes. Just after leaving—I mean, shortly after that, I saw, for instance, people with gunshot wounds, so that was very, I mean, emotionally very hard. I saw a young girl, for instance, 18 or 19, who had been shot, and she kept repeating that "If I die here, please remember that you’re all fantastic, and keep up your struggle," and so on. I don’t know what happened with her afterwards. She was given some help from some first help.

But after that, I mean, most of the time I kept laying low just in the terrain, just in the woods with the other people, trying to listen to see if the shooting was approaching and move accordingly. But after a long time—I mean, it was more than one-and-a-half hours—when I thought the whole ordeal might be over, because we heard the police helicopters and so on, this man suddenly showed up like 15 meters from the location where I was. I was standing close to the water, together with some other people. And he showed up, like above us, wearing a police uniform and carrying a large rifle. And he shouted something like—like calming, saying that either it’s the police or it’s OK. But immediately, he started—he started firing his rifle. So at that point, I just turned around and jumped into the water, and I ran or crawled by the waterside on some rocks and just tried to hide by the waterside a few meters away from there. Of course, if he had wanted to turn in our direction, I think we would have very small chances of surviving. But now he didn’t. He shot in another direction, I think killing at least one person. I saw that later on, because I thought it was a life vest in the water, but I realized that it was probably a dead body.

But he was apprehended shortly after that. So that’s—but I did see him. He looked very, very calm, very, you know, not emotional, very conscious of what he was doing. So it was a chilling moment. I thought really that, well, this might be the end. But I had—I was lucky to survive; many others weren’t.

AMY GOODMAN: And in your understanding of who Breivik is now, and Ali Esbati, your work, talk about why you—what you were lecturing about on the island to the camp. Do you see any connections?

ALI ESBATI: Well, no, not really. I was talking about the economic policies of the right-wing government in Sweden and how to learn from them in Norway, not to repeat the failure of the left in Sweden. But what really is striking is that—I mean, even though this is a particularly mad person, of course, his acts need to be understood in a social and political context, and that context is rising Islamophobia in the Western world and in the Nordic countries, as well, and—because these are ideas that he carries. They are not, absolutely not, unique to him. They’re rather widespread in certainly milieux, where they’re seeing Islam and regular Muslims as sort of occupation force and those enabling that occupation as traitors. And, of course, traitors in a war situation, you might legitimize doing very drastic things to them. And this is the kind of worldview that has pushed him over new limits. But if we want to not have these kind of things happen in the future, I think that’s the point to start, I mean, understanding the political context in which he has been and he has acted, even before the shootings.

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