Unleashed bows and arrows in Norway treated as apparent terrorist attack

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A 37-year-old man was charged on Thursday in connection with a rampage of bows and arrows in a small Norwegian town that killed five people and injured three others, in what authorities described as an act of terrorism apparent.

Police identified the suspect in the grisly assault in the town of Kongsberg, about 80 kilometers southwest of Oslo, as Espen Andersen Brathen.

“The incidents in Kongsberg currently appear to be an act of terrorism,” the Norwegian security agency, known as PST, said in a statement. He added that investigators were still trying to determine precisely what motivated the assailant.

Many flags across the normally bucolic town, away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, flew at half mast, and grieving locals placed candles and flowers on a makeshift memorial in the town square.

The regional police chief said the suspect was known to authorities. Authorities said on Thursday that the assailant was a Danish citizen who lived in the city and had converted to Islam, but did not say when this happened, why his conversion had raised concerns or what measures the authorities had taken.

“We have already been in contact with him regarding concerns about radicalization,” Ole Bredrup Saeverud, the regional police chief, said at a press conference before the suspect was named. When asked if the perpetrator could have been motivated by extreme religious ideology, he added, “We don’t know, but it’s natural to ask.

Four women and a man were killed in the assault on Wednesday evening. The assailant, who escaped an initial confrontation with the police, fired a volley of arrows at apparent strangers in Kongsberg.

Some of the victims were also found inside private homes, police lawyer Iren Svane Mathiassen told NRK broadcaster. “We have information on the assailant who broke into the houses and committed the murders there,” she said.

Mr Bredrup Saeverud, the police chief, said the last time concerns about the suspect’s radicalization came to the attention of police was last year, but he did not said who contacted them with these concerns, nor specified their nature. He only said that the police followed up on several reports.

Mr Brathen is expected to appear before a judge on Friday, when the specific charges against him are made public.

Fredrik Neumann, his court-appointed lawyer, said in an interview that the man was cooperating with the authorities and undergoing a mental health assessment. He said the man’s mother was Danish and his father Norwegian.

The ages of the five people killed ranged from 50 to 70, Bredrup Saeverud said, adding that the three people injured in the attack are expected to survive.

It is the worst massacre in Norway since 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people, most of them teenagers in a camp.

Police provided new details of the attack on Thursday. The first call to police came at 6:12 p.m., with witnesses describing a scene of chaos and unprovoked violence at a supermarket in Kongsberg, a former silver mining village.

A woman told local media TV2 that she saw people hiding from a man standing on a street corner with “arrows in a quiver on his shoulder and a bow in his hand”. As he shot the arrows, she said, people ran for their lives.

Six minutes after the first call to the police, the officers confronted the assailant. He shot arrows at the officers and escaped.

At one point, the attacker crossed a bridge spanning the Numedalslagen river and passed through town.

As he passed through town, he attacked seemingly random people, police said. One of the injured was a police officer on leave, and a photo of him with an arrow on his back has been widely shared online.

Police on Thursday asked the public to “please stop sharing photos”, saying it was “reckless and disrespectful”.

Police said the assailant used a second weapon in the rampage, without providing further details. But it was the arrows that marked the trail of devastation.

At 6:47 p.m., police arrested the suspect – 35 minutes after the first reports of violence.

Police lawyer Ann Iren Svane Mathiassen told TV2 that the suspect had lived in the city for several years.

Murder is rare in Norway. In a country of just over five million people, there were 31 murders last year, most involving people who knew each other.

Yet the nation has yet to fully take into account the trauma of the devastating mass killings of 2011.

Norwegian authorities have expressed concern that not enough is being done to eradicate right-wing extremism, especially among young people. In July, analysts from the country’s intelligence services warned that a decade after the 2011 attack, there were young men and boys who idolized the shooter.

Norway has strict gun control laws, and before this attack the country had only experienced one mass shooting: in 1988, a gunman killed four people and injured two others.

Over the past decade, the Norwegian authorities have stepped up their efforts to eradicate terrorism and political violence. This push included an “action plan” that outlines preventive measures to identify and crack down on the type of radicalization that could lead to violence.

A key part of the effort is reaching the people who come to the attention of the authorities, starting with what is commonly referred to in the country as a ‘worry talk’.

As the fallout from the latest attack reverberated, a new center-left government was sworn in on Thursday morning.

Jonas Gahr Store, the leader of the Labor Party who has been installed as Prime Minister, said at the ceremony that “what happened in Kongsberg is terrible”.

He promised a full investigation.


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