The bow-and-arrow rampage by a man who killed five people in a small town near Norway’s capital appeared to be a terrorist act, authorities said Thursday, a bizarre and shocking attack in a Scandinavian country where violent crime is rare.
Police identified the attacker as Espen Andersen Braathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen, who was arrested on the street Wednesday night. They said he used the bow and arrow and possibly other weapons to randomly target people at a supermarket and other locations in Kongsberg, a town of about 26,000 where he lived.
Witnesses said their quiet neighborhood of wooden houses and birch trees was turned into a scene of terrifying cries and turmoil.
“The screaming was so intense and horrifying there was never any doubt something very serious was going on,” said Kurt Einar Voldseth, who had returned home from an errand when he heard the commotion. “I can only describe it as a ‘death scream,’ and it burned into my mind.”
Four women and one man between the ages of 50 and 70 were killed, and three other people were wounded, police said.
Andersen Braathen is being held on preliminary charges and will face a custody hearing Friday. Police said they believe he acted alone.
“The whole act appears to be an act of terror,” said Hans Sverre Sjoevold, head of Norway’s domestic intelligence service, known as the PST.
”We do not know what the motivation of the perpetrator is,” Sjoevold said in English. “We have to wait for the outcome of the investigation.”
He said the suspect was known to the PST, but he declined to elaborate. The agency said the terror threat level for Norway remained unchanged at “moderate.”
Regional Police Chief Ole B. Saeverud described the man as a Muslim convert and said there “earlier had been worries of the man having been radicalized,” but he did not elaborate or say why he was previously flagged or authorities did in response.
Police were alerted to a man shooting arrows about 6:15 p.m. and arrested him 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.”
She said the bow and arrows were just part of the attacker’s arsenal. Police have not said what other weapons were used.
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Norwegian media reported the suspect previously had been convicted of burglary and drug possession, and last year a court granted a restraining order for him to stay away from his parents for six months after he threatened to kill one of them.
Svane Mathiassen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK the suspect will be examined by forensic psychiatric experts, which is “not unusual in such serious cases.”
Mass killings are rare in low-crime 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.”
Newly appointed Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere called the attack “horrific.”
“This is unreal. But the reality is that five people have been killed, many are injured and many are in shock,” Gahr Stoere told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
Dozens of people saw the killings. Erik Benum, who lives on the same road as the supermarket that was attacked, told the AP he saw shop workers taking shelter 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.
Police, along with reinforcements from other cities, flooded into Kongsberg and blocked several roads. The blue lights of emergency vehicles and spotlights from a helicopter illuminated the scene.
On Thursday morning, the whole town was eerily quiet, he said.
“People are sad and shocked,” Benum said.
The main church in Kongsberg was open for those in need of comfort.
“I don’t think anyone expects to have these kinds of experiences. But nobody could imagine this could happen here in our little town,” the Rev. Reidar Aasboe told the AP.