Four women and a man died and two others were wounded in the southeastern town of Kongsberg in Norway’s deadliest attack in a decade.
A Danish man suspected of killing five people with a bow and arrow and possibly other weapons while randomly shooting at strangers in a small Norwegian town appears to have committed an act of terrorism, authorities in Norway have said.
The Wednesday night attack at a supermarket and other locations in downtown Kongsberg, a town of about 26,000 residents not far from Norway's capital, left the country stunned as police released some details, including that officers made contact with the 37-year-old suspect but he initially escaped.
“From what we know now, it is reasonably clear that some, probably everyone, was killed after the police were in contact with the perpetrator,” regional police chief Ole B Saeverud said on Thursday. The victims were four women and one man between the ages of 50 and 70. Two other people were injured.
Mass killings are rare in low-crime Norway, and the attack immediately drew comparisons with the country's worst peacetime slaughter a decade ago, when a right-wing domestic extremist killed 77 people with a bomb, a rifle and a pistol.
'A dangerous place'
People have “experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place,” Norwegian King Harald V said on Thursday. “It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
According to police, the suspect in Wednesday's attack walked around downtown Kongsberg shooting arrows. Police were alerted to the attack around 6:15 pm and arrested the suspect about 30 minutes later. Regional prosecutor Ann Iren Svane Mathiassen, said that after the man's arrest, he “clearly described what he had done. He admitted killing the five people.”
Norway’s domestic security agency, known by its acronym PST, cited various aspects of the attack to explain its belief that the suspect’s actions “currently appear to be an act of terrorism.”
“Attacks on random people in public places are a recurring modus operandi among extremists carrying out terror in the West,” the agency said. It said “the most probable scenario” for such an attack in Norway “is an attack carried out by one or a few perpetrators with simple weapon types, against targets with few or no security measures.”
“The investigation will clarify in more detail what the incidents were motivated by,” PST said in a statement.
The man arrested on Wednesday had been on the security agency’s radar, but the agency did not say why.
Svane Mathiassen, the prosecutor, said the bow and arrows were just part of the killer’s arsenal. Police have not said what other weapons were used in the attack. Weapons experts and other technical officers were being drafted in to help with the investigation.
Both the hospitalised victims are in intensive care. They include an off-duty police officer who was inside the store. Their conditions were not immediately known.
Custody hearing on Friday
The suspect is being held on preliminary charges, which is a step short of formal charges. He will formally face a custody hearing on Friday. Police believe he acted alone.
Norwegian media reported that the suspect previously had been convicted of burglary and possession of drugs, and last year a local court granted a restraining order ordering him to stay away from his parents for a six-month period after he threatened to kill one of them.
Svane Mathiassen, who is leading the investigation, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the suspect will be assessed by forensic psychiatric experts on Thursday.
“This is not unusual in such serious cases,” she was quoted as saying.
The main church in Kongsberg, a small town of some 26,000 inhabitants, was open to anyone in need of support.
“I don’t think anyone expects to have these kinds of experiences. But nobody could imagine this could happen here in our little town,” parish priest Reidar Aasboe said.
PST said on Thursday that the terror threat level for Norway remains unchanged and was considered “moderate.”