Today's bombing and reported shootings at a ruling Labour Party youth meeting due to potentially be attended by the Norwegian Prime Minister is a challenge to Norway's very nature, shattering preconceptions as much as lives and property.
Despite the current lack of details, the blast that ripped through Oslo this afternoon seems most likely to have been the work of jihadists sympathetic to or indeed part of al-Qaeda, adding Norway to the list of Scandinavian countries affected by Islamist terror. Nevertheless, the reported multiple shootings on an island 45 minutes from Oslo hosting a youth meeting is sadly ongoing.
The lack of warning, intended target (which seems at this time to have been the Prime Minister's office), method and probable use of multiple devices reinforces this view.
To some, the venue of this latest atrocity is a surprise: whilst there has been a jihadist focus on Scandinavia for some time, given the lengthy controversy over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed which scandalised some Muslims, Copenhagen and to an extent Stockholm have been centres of attention. Indeed, the latter experienced a ground-breaking - albeit flawed - attack last year. However, Norway plays host to a very large and still-growing immigrant/refugee Muslim population located primarily in the Goruddalen valley, just to the east of Oslo. Plots have also previously been intercepted in the country: a year ago an Iraqi, Uzbek and Uighur were arrested over separate schemes to hit targets in Norway and across Scandinavia, whilst the country's leading domestic militant - a Norwegian-Pakistani - continues to draw attention despite being in jail.
Last year's plots were different, in that they were not aimed at the Norwegian establishment. Rather the known targets included the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper and the Chinese embassy in Oslo (the latter being a Uighur plot, related to events in Xinjiang in 2009: note that al-Qaeda is a formal and declared ally of the main violent Uighur movements). This attack on the Prime Minister will therefore be particularly shocking to the Norwegian people, and as it almost certainly reflects continued Norwegian involvement in operations in Afghanistan these are likely to come under popular scrutiny.
Al-Qaeda has long been seeking for a repeat of the 2004 Madrid bombings, which had the political effect of driving an ally out of the US-led force in Iraq. In Oslo there seems to have been a similar alignment of opportunity and capability, especially as the liberal basis of the country has heavily limited spending on policing and security. It is in the Norwegian nature to react with courage, and it seems unlikely that this a single bombing will force an early withdrawal from the NATO commitment. This incident is nonetheless a rude wake-up call to the Norwegians, which will shatter preconceptions as much as it has shattered windows and lives, and dramatically increase inter-community tensions and suspicions. Indeed, only last week many cars were torched near a train station in the Goruddalen area, an unprecedented event blamed on unruly Muslim youths which has exposed fears of increasing ghettoisation. The challenge to the liberal heart of Norway and all of Scandinavia is clear.
If there are any significant changes in terms of analysis, we shall issue a further monitor alert to the CSARN members network.