A 37-year-old man was charged Thursday in connection with a bow-and-arrow sabotage in a small Norwegian town that killed five people, and police said they had been in contact with him in the past. He was a fanatic after converting to Islam.
“We have been in contact with him regarding concerns about radicalization,” regional police chief Bredrup Severud told a news conference. Asked if the man might be inspired by a highly religious ideology, he said, “We don’t know that, but it’s natural to ask questions.”
Four women and one man were killed in the attack on Wednesday evening. The attacker, who survived an initial confrontation with police, fired arrows at apparent strangers in Kongsberg, a town 50 miles southwest of Oslo.
Authorities said Thursday that the suspect, whose name has not been released, is a Danish national who lived in the city.
The police chief said concerns about the suspect’s radicalization had been brought to the attention of police last time, but did not say who had approached him with those concerns. He only said that the police had followed up on several reports.
The suspect is expected to appear before a judge on Friday, when the specific charges against him are made public.
His court-appointed attorney Fredrik Neumann said in an interview that the man was cooperating with authorities and was undergoing a mental health assessment. He said the man’s mother was Danish and his father was Norwegian.
The five killed were aged 50-70, Severud said, and two people injured in the attack are expected to survive.
It was the biggest mass murder in Norway since 2011, when an far-right extremist killed 77 people, most of them teenagers, in a camp.
On Thursday, police offered new details about the attack, which Prime Minister Erna Solberg called “horrific”.
The first call to police came at 6:12 pm, with witnesses describing a scene of chaos and unprovoked violence at a supermarket in Kongsberg, a former silver mining village.
A woman told local news outlet TV2 that she had seen people hiding from a man standing by the side of the road with “an arrow in his shoulder and a bow in his hand”. As he fired the arrows, he said, people ran to save their lives.
Six minutes after the first call to the police, officers confronted the attacker. They fired arrows at the officers and fled.
At one point, the attacker crossed a bridge spanning the Neumedalslagen river and cut through the city, a bucolic area that serves as an escape for people seeking refuge from the hustle and bustle of Oslo.
According to the police, as he made his way into the city, he randomly attacked people. One of the injured was an off-duty police officer, and a photo of him with an arrow in his back was widely circulated online.
Police on Thursday asked the public to “please stop sharing the photos”, saying it was “foolish and disrespectful”.
Police said the attacker had used another weapon in the stampede, although they did not provide further details. But it was the arrows that marked the mark of destruction.
At 6:47 pm, police took the suspect into custody – 34 minutes after the violence was first reported.
Ann Irene Sven Mathiasen, a police lawyer, told TV2 that the suspect had been living in the city for several years.
Murder is rare in Norway. In a country with a population of just over five million, there were 31 murders last year, most involving people who knew each other.
Norway has strict gun control laws, and the country had experienced only one mass shooting before that attack: in 1988, a gunman killed four people and injured two others.
Over the past decade, Norwegian authorities have intensified their efforts to stamp out terrorism and political violence. That push includes an “action plan” that outlines preventive measures aimed at finding and suppressing radicalization that gives rise to violence.
A key part of the effort is reaching out to those who are brought to the attention of the authorities, in what is commonly called a “talk of concern” in the country.
As the results of the latest attack echoed, a new centre-left government was being sworn in on Thursday morning.
Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Store, who was installed as prime minister, said at the ceremony that “what has happened in Kongsberg is terrible.”
He assured a full investigation.