Norwegian police are investigating the bow-and-arrow massacre on Wednesday as an act of terrorism. The Danish suspect, 37-year-old Espen Anderson Bråthen, was a recent convert to Islam and had been flagged for radicalization prior to the rampage.
Bråthen, who is believed to have acted alone, fired arrows at shoppers and pedestrians in the quiet town of Kongsberg near the nation’s capital of Oslo on Wednesday evening until he was arrested by officers who fired warning shots, police said. He has since confessed to the killings.
The perpetrator killed five people and injured two others before police forced his surrender. Four women and one man between the ages of 50 and 70 were killed in the attack. Police say the victims appeared to be selected at random, and that some of them were killed in their homes. Two other unidentified weapons were also used to carry out the carnage.
The aftermath of the carnage was shown on local media, showing arrows embedded in walls of buildings and the sidewalk where the violence took place. Police in Norway, who are normally unarmed, have been ordered to carry guns while on duty after the attack.
According to Norwegian authorities, Bråthen, who lived in Kongsberg, has a criminal record including death threats, burglary, and drug possession. The Wall Street Journal reports that the suspect was reported to police for possible radicalization last year. Police say the suspect, who has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation as part of the investigation, was issued a restraining order in 2020 for threatening to kill his parents.
Bråthen was questioned by police outside his house a year ago — three years after uploading a video in which he declared himself “a messenger” and said: “bear witness that I am a Muslim.” According to the Daily Mail, police came to Bråthen’s house with shields and helmets and placed him in handcuffs. The arrest happened the same month he was accused of breaching a restraining order taken out on him by his father, whom he threatened to kill with a handgun.
Bråthen reportedly visited the Kongsberg Islamic Cultural Center, the only mosque in the town, three times five years ago according to the local imam Oussama Tlili. The imam said Bråthen stood out because ethnic Norwegian Muslims are rare, especially in Kongsberg, which is home to only 26,000 residents.
“This guy made an impression on me, that’s why I remember him,” Tlili said. “My first impression was that he didn’t know a lot about Islam. He didn’t know how to pray. He wasn’t even interested in praying.”
Tlili recalled Bråthen telling him that he wanted the imam to help him spread “a message from God” without elaborating what he meant. “I said, I don’t think I can help you,” Tlili remembered saying, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Gudoon Hirsi, a Norwegian Muslim of Somali descent who lived across from Bråthen told the publication that he behaved in a “threatening and creepy manner” and made repeated remarks about her ethnicity, and even once growled at her like a dog.
“We always made sure the door was locked when we saw that he was out. Over the years, I became increasingly scared of him,” Hersi said. “I was afraid of Espen for two years and I never knew if he was going to hurt me.”
The country’s internal security agency said Thursday that all signs pointed to the attack being an act of terrorism but that the investigation remains ongoing.
“Attacks on random people in public places are a recurring modus operandi among extremist Islamists carrying out terror in the West,” the agency said in a statement.
With a population of 5.4 million, Norway enjoys a low crime rate. The country saw its last act of mass violence perpetrated by neo-Nazi extremist Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 people, most of whom were teenagers, in and around Oslo in 2011. In 2019, a gunman who opened fire at a mosque was quickly overpowered by worshipers before he was able to injure anyone.
Norway has been largely spared of Islamist violence due to its strict immigration policy in comparison to neighboring Sweden, which has seen soaring gang violence and a wave of women’s killings. Norway requires all foreigners to apply for permanent residency to live and work in Norway except for citizens of other Nordic countries.