OSLO, Norway — A gunman opened fire in Oslo’s nightlife district early Saturday, killing two people and leaving more than 20 wounded in what the Norwegian security service called an “Islamist terror act” during the capital’s annual LGBTQ Pride festival.
According to investigators, the suspect was a Norwegian citizen aged 42 who is originally from Iran and was taken into custody after opening fire in three places downtown Oslo.
According to police, two men in their 50s died and another in his 60s in the gunshots. Ten victims sustained serious injuries but were not considered to be life-threatening. Eleven people suffered minor injuries.
The Norwegian Police Security Service raised its terror alert level from “moderate” to “extraordinary” — the highest level — after the attack, which sent panicked revelers fleeing into the streets or trying to hide from the gunman.
The service’s acting chief, Roger Berg, called the attack an “extreme Islamist terror act” and said the suspect had a “long history of violence and threats,” as well as mental health issues.
According to him, the Norwegian acronym PST was first aware of the suspect back in 2015. Later, they became concerned that he might have become radicalized or be part of an unknown Islamist network.
Police advised organizers to cancel a Pride parade, which was scheduled for Saturday. It had been the main event of a week-long celebration. Despite this, scores of protestors marched through the Capital waving rainbow flags.
One of the shootings happened outside the London Pub, a bar popular with the city’s LGBTQ community, just hours before the parade was set to begin.
Benjamin Lau- Henriksen, 15, and his friend Li-Sullivan Köker Bolstad, 16, walked by the London Pub on their way home from a nearby Pride party for young people about two hours before the shooting. According to them, if they were of legal drinking age they would have been there.
“Had we been over 18 yesterday, we would have been there and we could have died,” Bolstad said. “I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not because as queer youth we live in fear of something like this happening.”
According to police, the suspect was assisted by civilians. Christian Hatlo, the police attorney, stated that the suspect was under suspicion for murder, attempted murder, and terroristic intent based upon the numerous people who were targeted in multiple locations.
“Our overall assessment is that there are grounds to believe that he wanted to cause grave fear in the population,” Hatlo said.
Hatlo stated that it wasn’t clear if the gunman targeted LGBTQ members.
“We have to look closer at that, we don’t know yet,” he said.
Olav Ronneberg, a Norwegian journalist with NRK said he was there.
“I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”
Marcus Nybakken (46) also witnessed the incident and said he was struck by how many people were running around and screaming, thinking it was a fistfight.
“But then I heard that it was a shooting and that there was someone shooting with a submachine gun,” Nybakken told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”
According to him, although the motive of the attack was unknown, it caused fear and grievance in the LGBTQ community.
“We all stand by you,” Gahr Stoere wrote.
Christian Bredeli told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid with a group about 10 on the fourth-floor until he received a safe exit signal.
“Many were fearing for their lives,” he said. “On our way out we saw several injured people, so we understood that something serious had happened.”
Norwegian TV channel TV2 showed video footage showing people panicking as shots played in the background.
According to investigators, the suspect was known both to PST and police but not for any serious violent offenses. Hatlo stated that the suspect’s criminal history included both a drug offense and a weapon offense for carrying knives.
Hatlo said police seized two weapons after the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon, both of which he described as “not modern” without giving details.
According to him, the suspect did not make any statements to police officers and was currently in touch with a lawyer.
Police instructed Pride festival organizers to cancel Saturday’s parade.
“Oslo Pride therefore urges everyone who planned to participate or watch the parade to not show up. All events in connection with Oslo Pride are canceled,” organizers said on the official Facebook page of the event.
Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of FRI, a Norwegian organization for sexual and gender diversity, said the shooting shook the Nordic country’s LGBTQ community.
“We’ll be back later, proud, visible, but right now it’s not the time for that,” he told TV2.
King Harald V offered condolences to the relatives of victims and said the royal family was “horrified” by the attack.
“We must stand together to defend our values: freedom, diversity and respect for each other. We must continue to stand up for all people to feel safe,” the monarch said.
Norway is a country with a low crime rate, however it has seen a string of attacks by so-called “lone wolf” in recent years. This included one of the most violent mass shootings ever recorded in Europe. A right-wing extremist set off a bomb at Oslo in 2011 that resulted in the deaths of 69 people.
A right-wing extremist also killed his stepsister in 2019 and set fire to a mosque before anyone was hurt.
Five people were killed last year by a Norwegian attacker armed with knives, a bow and an arrow in southern Norway. The victim, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia was sent to mandatory psychiatric treatment on Friday.
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