A Danish man suspected of killing five people with a bow and arrow and possibly other weapons while randomly shooting at strangers in a small Norwegian town appears to have committed an act of Islamic terrorism, authorities in Norway said Thursday.
The Wednesday night attack at a supermarket and other locations in downtown Kongsberg, a town of about 26,000 residents not far from Norway’s capital, left the country stunned as police released some details, including that officers made contact with the 37-year-old suspect but he initially escaped.
“From what we know now, it is reasonably clear that some, probably everyone, was killed after the police were in contact with the perpetrator,” regional police chief Ole B. Saeverud said Thursday. The victims were four women and one man between the ages of 50 and 70. Three other people were injured, police said.
Mass killings are rare in Norway, and the attack immediately drew comparisons with the country’s worst peacetime slaughter a decade ago, when a right-wing domestic extremist killed 77 people with a bomb, a rifle, and a pistol.
People have “experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place,” Norwegian King Harald V said Thursday. “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.”
According to police, the suspect in Wednesday’s attack walked around downtown Kongsberg shooting arrows. Police were alerted to the attack around 6:15 p.m. and arrested the suspect about 30 minutes later. Regional prosecutor Ann Iren Svane Mathiassen, told The Associated Press that after the man’s arrest, he “clearly described what he had done. He admitted killing the five people.”
Norway’s domestic security agency, known by its acronym PST, cited various aspects of the attack to explain its belief that the suspect’s actions “currently appear to be an act of terrorism.”
“Attacks on random people in public places are a recurring modus operandi among extremist Islamists carrying out terror in the West,” the agency said. It said “the most probable scenario” for such an attack in Norway “is an attack carried out by one or a few perpetrators with simple weapon types, against targets with few or no security measures.”
“The investigation will clarify in more detail what the incidents were motivated by,” PST said in a statement.
The man arrested Wednesday had been on the security agency’s radar, but the agency did not say why. Police described him as a Muslim convert who was previously flagged as having been radicalized.
“There earlier had been worries of the man having been radicalized,” Saeverud, the police chief, said during a news conference. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant by calling the suspect radicalized and did not provide more information about why the suspect was previously flagged and what authorities did in response.
Svane Mathiassen, the prosecutor, said the bow and arrows were just part of the killer’s arsenal. Police have not said what other weapons were used in the attack. Weapons experts and other technical officers were being drafted in to help with the investigation.
Dozens of witnesses in Kongsberg saw the gruesome events. 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,” Benum said.
The following morning, the whole town was eerily quiet, he said. “People are sad and shocked.”
Both the hospitalized victims are in intensive care. They include an off-duty police officer who was inside the store. Their conditions were not immediately known.
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.
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.
Svane Mathiassen, 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.
PST said Thursday that the terror threat level for Norway remains unchanged and was considered “moderate.” The main church in Kongsberg 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.