HONEFOSS, NORWAY—Hussein Kazemi has faced danger many times before. Maybe that’s why the teenager still can smile as he sits in his hospital bed, bullet wounds in both legs and an arm, and images of a crazed gunman in his head.
The asylum-seeker from Afghanistan, who sought safe harbour in Norway two years ago, is one of dozens still hospitalized after a gun rampage on an island campsite killed at least 86 people — mostly teens and young adults. A Norwegian with anti-immigration views has been arrested in the attack, which left scores wounded and several presumed missing somewhere in the water.
“I experienced many dangers in Afghanistan. But this is the worst experience I will ever have in my life,” the 19-year-old said in a bedside interview Sunday, two days after the attack.
Even so, he still holds a positive view of his adopted home. “I have experienced much good in Norway, so much good,” he said.
Many immigrants or children of immigrants were at the camp, an annual event for Norway’s up-and-coming liberal Labor Party activists. Kazemi said the shooting began soon after he finished playing a soccer game featuring a veritable United Nations of fellow party activists from Afghanistan, Georgia, the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Lebanon and other countries.
Norway’s liberal government has traditionally been relatively open to asylum-seekers of war-torn states. That’s a central complaint in the epic online rant published by the alleged gunman, 32-year-old Norwegian nationalist Anders Behring Breivik, who proclaims a vision of a Europe wiped clean of Muslims.
Kazemi said the gunman didn’t appear to be targeting campers of a particular hue or religious wardrobe.
“He seemed to want to kill everyone. No one was to be spared,” he said in comments partly translated by his older stepbrother from his native Afghan language of Dari.
Kazemi was in the camp cafeteria Friday when he heard commotion outside: sounds like firecrackers, then screams. Others more aware of what was happening fell on the floor.
“So I threw myself down too, but I didn’t know why,” he said.
Then he saw the gunman. People around him fell from gunshots. He joined survivors in a mad 10-minute sprint into the forest outside.
It was only when they reached a rocky shoreline, puffing from exhaustion, that friends stared, frightened, at Kazemi. He’d been shot at least once, most likely back in the initial cafeteria melee.
“My leg was caked with blood. I hadn’t noticed. I was too busy just trying to stay alive,” he said.
He had no time to consider first aid. The gunman had followed them and was firing bursts from his assault rifle.
The teens and young adults had two dangerous option: to hide still behind a rock, or to dive into the bone-chilling water and attempt a long crossing to the mainland at least 600 meters (yards) away.
Kazemi tried both, first hugging the rocky ground until shots rained around him. He jumped into the water, even though he’s never learned to swim. He gagged from inhaling water, then clung to a rocky outcropping to keep from going under.
The gunman kept shooting. Bodies were bobbing around Kazemi in the water, which their blood turned from gray-blue to burgundy. He estimates that 20 fellow campers were dead or dying in the choppy waters.
He tried to lie still. Soon the gunman diverted his attention to farther along the shore, where girls were crying and screaming. After the sounds of more gunshots, he said, the screaming stopped.
After another half-hour of playing dead on the shoreline, he said, police arrived in boats to arrest the gunman.
Kazemi’s bright, unceasing smile suggests a teenager in the full bloom of health. But aided by a brother and stepbrother, Kazemi gingerly lifts the sheets with his uninjured right arm to reveal bullet wounds to both thighs, just above the knees, and a tightly wrapped ankle from a gunshot to his right Achilles heel. His left arm was grazed by another bullet.
“The doctor says I will walk fine again, but I need another surgery tonight,” he said. “I am strong.”
When asked if he now considered Norway a hostile place to stay, Kazemi offered an emphatic “no.” He said he had survived many risks in his native city of Herat, northwestern Afghanistan, and never doubted he could survive this too.
“You have only one life and you must take the good with the bad,” he said.
“There will always be both. Life is like that. There are ups and downs. In a dangerous place you always have a chance to live, and in a safe place you always have a chance of being killed. It’s destiny and you cannot avoid it.”
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