Two and half hours after a bomb exploded at the Norwegian Prime Minister's office, and a man had gone on a shooting spree at a camp for Labor Party youth, two facts were known -- 17 people were killed and, as for the prime suspect:
- And yet, the only motive that gained traction among experts and commentators, in their attempts to add context to the insanity, was to categorize the blond assassin as a Jihadi - presumably a convert.
The lead of Foreign Policy's article was entitled 'Norway's 9/11?'
- Foreign Policy did get one thing right: "We don't know much about this bombing yet," they wrote.
But this was immediately followed with 'expert' Kristian Harpviken asserting with total confidence that there was only one real possible explanation: al-Qaeda.
Reading the many #oslo newstweets written under the presumption of an Al Qaeda link, I was puzzled, so I asked:
But the Al Qaeda narrative was too compelling. And then this nine-day old article from the Atlantic was circulated. It was as if this confirmed the theory.
The arguments in the article were repeated by many experts and commentators I came across, although at this point there were still only those two facts that had been established: 17 dead and a white, blond Norwegian man arrested. Nevertheless, the al-Qaeda story was flourishing.
And then a new "fact" -- one that provided 'proof'! -- revealed itself, and the journalists and editors jumped on it. After all, here was exactly what they needed to legitimize the narrative they had already put forward.
Will McCants, a blogger on jihadica.com and CNA analyst at Johns Hopkins Faculty, was the source of this new fact. He had been monitoring Shmukh, a forum for supporters of al-Qaeda, where McCants claimed that a man named Abu Sulayman al-Nasir had taken responsibility for the attack, on behalf of a group that calls itself 'Helpers of Global Jihad.'
Even though the original thread had been deleted and the only source was McCant´s copy-pasted quote (in Arabic), the "fact" was soon picked up by news agencies and immediately went viral.
From McCants published the quote on his blog and until NYT ran with the "fact", individual skeptical Twitters had been asking questions and when Ansar al Jihad retracked the post, they saw the story debunked.
That made NYT and BBCBreaking modify the "fact" with a caveat.
NYT continued to refer to the (largely debunked) Jihadi connection in their main story, which led other news outlet to do the same. Tweeters responded by repeating that the claim had been discredited.