OSLO // Norwegian authorities could have prevented or interrupted the bomb and gun attacks by a far-right fanatic who killed 77 people last year, a government-appointed commission said yesterday.
The long-awaited report into the July 22 attacks also said the domestic intelligence service could have done more to track down the gunman, but stopped short of saying it could have stopped him.
Anders Behring Breivik, 33, has admitted to the bombing of the government's headquarters in Oslo, which killed eight people and the subsequent shooting spree at a youth camp that left 69 dead, more than half of them teenagers. He is currently awaiting sentencing.
While noting that the attacks "may be the most shocking and incomprehensible acts ever experienced in Norway", the 500-page report states the bombing "could have been prevented" if already adopted security measures had been implemented more effectively.
Breivik was able to park a van with a fertiliser bomb just outside the high-rise before he drove another car to the Labour Party's youth camp on Utoya, unhindered.
The report says a car bomb "at the government complex and several coordinated attacks have been recurring scenarios in threat assessments as well as for safety analyses and exercise scenarios for many years".
Plans to close off the street in front of the government building were approved in 2010, but work on constructing physical barriers had not been completed and no temporary obstacles had been set up. A parking ban in the area was not strictly enforced.
The police response was slowed down by a series of blunders, including flaws in communication systems and the breakdown of an overloaded boat carrying a police antiterror unit. Meanwhile, Norway's only police helicopter was left unused, its crew on holiday. Breivik's shooting spree lasted for more than one hour before he surrendered to police.
A total of 35 minutes passed between a first police patrol's arrival on the shore of the lake and the moment when an elite police squad disembarked on Utoeya.
Alexander Bech Gjoerv, the lawyer who headed the commission, said the police's use of the time in the first phase of the Utoeya response was "unacceptable".
Two local police officers who arrived first on the lakeshore should have done everything possible to get to the island, according to police instructions in the event of a shooting.
Instead they remained on shore, saying they couldn't find a boat to take them to the island.
A faster police response could have stopped Breivik's shooting spree earlier, the report states, but recognised that "hardly anyone could have imagined" the secondary attack on Utoya.
"Sadly, however, after repeated school massacres in other countries, an armed desperado who shoots adolescents is indeed conceivable - also in Norway."
Jens Stoltenberg, the prime minister, said he held the ultimate responsibility for the way public authorities responded to the attacks, but he evaded reporters' questions about whether he had considered stepping down.
"It took too long to arrest the perpetrator. Police could have reached Utoya faster. These are circumstances I deeply regret," Mr Stoltenberg said.
The justice minister and the head of the Norwegian Security Service have already been replaced since the attacks.
Though Breivik has admitted the attacks, he rejected criminal guilt during his trial, saying his victims had betrayed their country by embracing a multicultural society.
Prosecutors have said there were doubts about his sanity and suggested Breivik be committed to compulsory psychiatric care instead of prison. A ruling is set for August 24.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse