Norway bow-and-arrow attack ‘appears to be act of terror’

A bow-and-arrow attack that left five people dead in Norway appears to have been an “act of terror”, but the motives of the Danish suspect will only be firmly established after a full investigation, the Norwegian security service has said.

Police have said the 37-year-old man was a Muslim convert with previous criminal convictions who had previously been flagged as a possible Islamic extremist. They said the man, who has not been named, would be undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

Four women and one man aged between 50 and 70 were killed and three other people including an off-duty police officer were injured in the attack on Wednesday evening in the town of Kongsberg, 41 miles (66km) south-west of Oslo.

Norway attack map

“The events in Kongsberg currently appear to be an act of terror, but the investigation … will determine in closer detail what the acts were motivated by,” the intelligence service PST said in a statement. The suspect was “known to PST from before”, the agency added, but did not provide further details.

The Norwegian police chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud said the suspect was a convert to Islam and there were “previously fears linked to his radicalisation”, but added that establishing motive would be “complicated … and will take time”.

Norway’s public broadcaster NRK reported that the man had several previous convictions for robbery and drugs offences and was sentenced last year to a six-month restraining order banning him from approaching two close family members after he threatened to kill one of them.

As an unnamed relative described him to the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet as mentally ill, adding that the family had been receiving threats for several years, Norwegian authorities were facing mounting questions about how the attack was allowed to happen given the suspect’s history.

Sæverud said the man had confessed to the attack, the deadliest in Norway in a decade, during overnight questioning. “We are investigating among other things to determine whether this was a terrorist attack,” he said.

Several of the victims were fired on in a Coop supermarket, and police said the attacker used other weapons as well as a bow and arrows. Two of the wounded survivors were in intensive care, officials said, while a third sought medical help independently.

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The suspect is being held on preliminary charges, one step short of being formally charged, and is believed to have acted alone. Police had previously followed up on reports of his possible radicalisation but had no reports this year, Sæverud said.

Jonas Gahr Støre, who took office as Norway’s prime minister on Thursday, called the attack “horrific”. Responding to the PST’s statement, he said: “If that is the conclusion, it underlines how serious the challenge and the threat is, and how important it is that society is prepared to be able to handle this.”

Støre’s centre-left government includes two survivors from Norway’s deadliest attack, the killing of 77 people by the far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik in 2011. Tonje Brenna, 33, the new education minister, and Jan Christian Vestre, 35, the trade and industry minister, survived Breivik’s rampage on the island of Utøya.

“Now that these talented young politicians are carrying this past with them, I feel that we have taken another important step and I am very proud of that,” Støre said.

Since Breivik’s massacre, Norway has experienced one other far-right attack, carried out by Philip Manshaus, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, who opened fire into a mosque outside Oslo in 2019 before being overpowered by worshippers. No one was seriously injured.

Norway‘s royal family expressed their sympathies after Wednesday’s attack. King Harald said in a letter to the Kongsberg mayor: “The rest of the nation stands with you.”

Police officers cordon off the scene in Kongsberg.
Police officers cordon off the scene in Kongsberg. Photograph: Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB/AFP/Getty Images

Sæverud said the killings happened after an initial contact between police and the shooter shortly after 6.15pm on Wednesday. “The officers were shot at with arrows and lost contact with the perpetrator, who escaped,” he told NRK. “After that there were several reports at various addresses that were followed up, and police launched a major search operation across a large area. We subsequently came across several injured people, and the man was arrested at 6.47pm.”

Local media reported that the suspect was eventually detained on the town’s Gamlabrua Bridge, and quoted witnesses as saying that the main square near the Coop was sealed off and a house in the neighbourhood searched for more than two hours. One witness said they saw a woman being stabbed.

An arrow left in a wall after an attack in Kongsberg, Norway.
An arrow left in a wall after an attack in Kongsberg, Norway. Photograph: Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AP

Police said earlier on Thursday that the suspect was a Danish citizen who lived in Kongsberg. He was in a police cell in the nearby town of Drammen and was due to go before a judge on Thursday or Friday for a custody hearing, his lawyer said.

“He is cooperating and is giving detailed statements regarding this event,” the lawyer, Fredrik Neumann, told NRK, adding that his client was “deeply affected”. He declined to comment further beyond saying the suspect’s mother was Danish, but it was not known whether he had ever lived there.

A woman who witnessed some of the attack, Hansine, told Norway’s TV2 she heard a disturbance, then saw a woman taking 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. Pictures in Norwegian media showed a black arrow sticking out of a wall and what appeared to be competition-grade arrows lying on the ground.

Another witness, Thomas Nilsen, told NRK he “thought it was war, it was so intense”. After what he at first thought was a “loud quarrel”, he said he heard “a scream I have never heard before. It was a scream that burned into the soul. I will never forget that. I perceived it as a death cry,” he said.