OSLO (AFP) – A 37-year-old Danish man was being questioned by Norwegian police in custody yesterday, the chief suspect wanted for killing five people by bow-and-arrow in the country’s deadliest attack in a decade.
Police have so far refused to rule out terrorism and released no information about possible motive after the deadly attack in the south-eastern town of Kongsberg on Wednesday.
In details that remain sketchy, five people were killed and two injured in several locations in the town centre, shocking normally tranquil Norway where murder is rare.
The suspect is believed to have acted alone.
It was the deadliest attack in the Scandinavian country since far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in 2011. Since then, Norway has seen one other far-right attack, carried out by a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who opened fire into a mosque.
After Wednesday’s attack, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter he was “shocked and saddened by the tragic news coming from Norway”.
Police late Wednesday identified the suspect as a 37-year-old Danish citizen living in Kongsberg, a small town of around 25,000 inhabitants 80 kilometres west of Oslo.
“We decided to confirm this information because many rumours were circulating on social networks about the perpetrator of the attack, some (implicating) people who have no connection with these serious acts,” police said.
The suspect was questioned by investigators overnight, his lawyer told AFP.
“He is explaining in detail and he is speaking and cooperating with the police,” the lawyer, Fredrik Neumann, told reporters earlier.
Norwegian television station TV2 said the suspect had confessed. The channel reported that the man converted to Islam and has a history of health problems, though authorities have not confirmed those reports.
Many questions remained unanswered yesterday.
Police official Oyvind Aas said on Wednesday that “given how events unfolded, it is natural to assess whether this is a terrorist attack” and stressed that “all possibilities were open”.
The victims have not yet been identified publicly, but one of the wounded was an off-duty police officer who had been in a store, one of the places attacked.
Norwegian media also wondered why it took police more than a half-hour after the first reports of the attack to arrest the suspect.
Police were informed of the attack at 6.13pm and the suspect was arrested at 6.47pm.
A witness, identified only as Hansine, told TV2 she had heard a disturbance, then saw a woman take cover and “a man standing on the corner with arrows in a quiver on his shoulder and a bow in his hand”.
“Afterwards, I saw people running for their lives. One of them was a woman holding a child by the hand,” she said.
Images in the media showed a black arrow sticking out of a wall and what looked like competition-grade arrows lying on the ground.
“These events shake us,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who stepped down yesterday, to be replaced by Jonas Gahr Store, whose Labour Party won recent parliamentary elections.
In Kongsberg, police blocked off the scene of the attack while urging the public to stay at home.
Norwegian police are not normally armed, but after the attack, the National Police Directorate ordered that officers be armed nationwide.
Norway’s intelligence service PST had been alerted, spokesman Martin Bernsen told AFP.
Norway rarely experiences such violence, but 10 years ago Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in the country’s worst massacre since World War II.
Breivik first set off a bomb in Oslo next to the building that housed the office of the prime minister, then went on a shooting spree at a summer camp for left-wing youth on the island of Utoya.
In August 2019, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi Philip Manshaus opened fire into a mosque on the outskirts of Oslo before being overpowered by worshippers, with no one seriously injured.