Norway's ‘lone-wolf' attacks stir angst in Europe

A couple look at tributes Thursday outside the Oslo Cathedral in Oslo, Norway, in memory of the victims of the July 22 bomb attack and shooting rampage. (Emilio Morenatti ~ Associated Press)

OSLO, Norway -- Norway cast it as the isolated act of a lone-wolf terrorist, whose boasts of a far-flung network of anti-Muslim warriors were the fantasies of a deranged mind.

European officials at an emergency counterterror meeting see a continentwide threat from right-wing extremists amid mounting Islamophobia -- and warn of possible copycats.

Two visions of the Norway atrocity emerged Thursday, as Europe gropes for answers following a tragedy that claimed the lives of 78 people.

While a picture emerged of a solitary killer, the attack carried out by Anders Behring Breivik has stirred questions in Europe about whether authorities have neglected the threat of right-wing extremists in their push to crack down on Islamist terror groups after 9/11.

Security officials insist they have not, and statistics from European police agency Europol show no surge in right-wing terror.

Still, many politicians saw the Norway attacks as a violent expression of a far-right populist movement that has swept anti-Muslim parties calling for strict cuts in immigration into parliaments across the continent.

At an emergency meeting on the far-right threat, European Union counterterrorism officials warned radicals who share Breivik's ideology might be tempted to follow his lead.

"Clearly, one major risk is that somebody may actually try to mount a similar attack as a copycat attack or as a way of showing support," said Tim Jones, principal adviser to the EU's counterterrorism coordinator. In September, EU interior ministers are to meet to discuss responses to the Norway massacre.

Across Europe, far-right groups were quick to distance themselves from the Norway attacker. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands' right-wing Party for Freedom tweeted: "Terrible attack in Oslo, many innocent victims of violent, sick mind."

Careful rhetoric

But some political leaders in Holland, which like Norway has grappled with an increasingly fractious debate about Muslim integration, said firebrand anti-Islamic rhetoric can fire the mind of a man like Breivik, who referred to Wilders repeatedly in his sprawling manifesto.

"Wilders has now distanced himself," said Dutch Labor Party head Job Cohen. "But I think it's good to realize that your words do have an effect -- and that goes for all politicians including Wilders. They can influence people and play a role in all kinds of ways."

Ahead of Thursday's emergency counterterror meeting, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom spoke of a "huge lack of political leadership" in allowing right-wing sentiment to bleed into the mainstream.

"Blaming Islam or immigration for all sorts of problems has become normal," Malmstrom told the Brussels-based European Voice newspaper. She cited a "permissive climate" in which such views "are no longer seen as extreme."

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Germany's intelligence agencies had far-right groups under "intensive" surveillance, but there was a greater risk in extremists like Breivik who operate alone and under the radar.