At least five people were killed Wednesday in attacks by a man wielding a bow and arrows in the town of Kongsberg of Norway, authorities said.
Norwegian police said they will investigate whether the attack amounted to an act of terrorism. "It's natural to consider whether this was an act of terror," the town's police chief Oyvind Aas told reporters.
He confirmed that the attacks happened over “a large area” of the town of around 28,000 people, about 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) southwest of the capital Oslo. He also said the suspect had appeared to be acting alone and was arrested by the police. A large number of policemen, helicopters, dogs and armed response teams were dispatched to secure the area, Aas said.
“A lot of resources were sent from several places, including Oslo police district, the bomb squad, national police and emergency response teams,” Aas told journalists. “They are securing the various crime scenes. We have many witnesses to interview,” he said, according to The Guardian.
Police said on Thursday that the arrested 37-year-old Danish citizen is suspected of killing five people. The police said they were giving information on the man's nationality after rumors swirled on social media about people not linked to the attacks.
The suspect is a Muslim convert who was previously flagged as having been radicalized, police chief Ole B. Saeverud told a news conference on Thursday. He added that there were "complicated assessments related to the motive, and it will take time before this is clarified." He didn't elaborate on what was meant by being radicalized.
Ann Iren Svane Mathiassen, the police attorney who is leading the investigation, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the suspect will be assessed by forensic psychiatric experts Thursday. "This is not unusual in such serious cases,” she was quoted as saying.
Norwegian media reported that the suspect previously had been convicted of burglary and possession of drugs, and last year a local court granted a restraining order ordering him to stay away from his parents for a six-month period after he threatened to kill one of them.
The victims were four women and one man between the ages of 50 and 70, Saeverud said. Police were alerted at 6:12 p.m. on Wednesday and officers made contact with the suspect but he escaped and wasn’t caught until 6:47 p.m., Saeverud said.
Officials believe that the man didn't start killing people until police arrived on the scene. "From what we know now, it is reasonably clear that some, probably everyone, was killed after the police were in contact with the perpetrator,” Saeverud said.
Speaking calmly and clearly after his arrest, the suspect told police, "I did this,” said Svane Mathiassen. The suspect "clearly described what he had done. He admitted killing the five people,” she told The Associated Press.
The police chief in the community of Kongsberg, near the capital of Oslo, said there was "a confrontation” between officers and the assailant, but he did not elaborate. Two other people were wounded and hospitalized in intensive care, including an officer who was off duty and inside the shop where the attack took place, police said.
The rampage happened in clear view of dozens of witnesses in this small town, which today is in hushed shock, according to onlookers. Police have already spoken to between 20 and 30 witnesses who saw the attacker wound and kill his victims, according to Svane Mathiassen. "There are people who saw him in the city. Before the killings. That is when he injured people,” she said.
Erik Benum, who lives on the same road as the supermarket that was one of the crime scenes, told the AP that he saw the escaped shop workers sheltering in doorways. "I saw them hiding in the corner. Then I went to see what was happening, and I saw the police moving in with a shield and rifles. It was a very strange sight.” The following morning, the whole town was eerily quiet, he said. "People are sad and shocked.”
The bow and arrows were just part of the killer’s arsenal. Police are yet to confirm what other weapons he used. Weapons experts and other technical officers are being drafted in to help with the investigation.
The suspect is being held on preliminary charges, which is a step short of formal charges. He will formally face a custody hearing Friday. Police believe he acted alone.
"It goes without saying that this is a very serious and extensive situation, and it naturally affects Kongsberg and those who live here,” Police spokesman Oeyvind Aas said earlier.
Mass killings are rare in low-crime Norway. The country’s worst peacetime slaughter was on July 22, 2011, when right-wing extremist Anders Breivik set off a bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people. Then he headed to tiny Utoya Island, where he stalked the mostly teen members of the Labor Party’s youth wing and killed another 69 victims. Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum under Norwegian law, but his term can be extended as long as he’s considered a danger to society.
Acting Prime Minister Erna Solberg described the attack as "gruesome” and said it was too early to speculate on a motive. The prime minister-designate, Jonas Gahr Stoere, who is expected to take office Thursday, called the assault "a cruel and brutal act” in comments to Norwegian news agency NTB.
Kongsberg Mayor Kari Anne Sand, speaking to VG newspaper, described the attack as “a tragedy for all those involved." She said the municipality has set up a crisis team in a hotel to help those affected. The main church in Kongsberg, a small town of some 26,000 inhabitants, was open to anyone in need of support. "I don’t think anyone expects to have these kinds of experiences. But nobody could imagine this could happen here in our little town,” parish priest Reidar Aasboe told the AP.
In a statement to the mayor of Kongsberg, Norwegian King Harald V said people have "experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote on Twitter that he was "shocked and saddened by the tragic news coming from Norway.”
Shortly after the attack, Norway’s national police directorate ordered officers across the country to carry firearms. Norwegian police officers normally do not carry firearms but have access to guns and rifles when needed.
Mass killings are rare in Norway. The country's worst peacetime slaughter was on July 22, 2011, when right-wing extremist Anders Breivik set off a bomb in the capital of Oslo, killing eight people.
Then he headed to tiny Utoya Island, where he stalked the mostly teen members of the Labor Party’s youth wing and killed another 69 victims.
Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum under Norwegian law, but his term can be extended as long as he’s considered a danger to society.