A gunman opened fire in Oslo’s nightlife district early on 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.
Investigators said the suspect, identified as a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran, was arrested after opening fire at three locations in downtown Oslo.
Police said two men, one in his 50s and and the other his 60s, died in the shootings.
Ten people were treated for serious injuries, but none of them was believed to be in life-threatening condition. Eleven others had 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.
He said the agency, known by its Norwegian acronym PST, first became aware of the suspect in 2015 and later grew concerned he had become radicalised and was part of an unspecified Islamist network.
Norwegian media named the suspect as Zaniar Matapour, an Oslo resident who arrived in Norway with his family from a Kurdish part of Iran in the 1990s.
The suspect’s defense lawyer, John Christian Elden, said his client hadn’t talked to investigators, and he cautioned against speculation on the motive.
“He has not given any reason. It is too early to conclude whether this is hate crime or terrorism,” Elden said in an email to The Associated Press.
Upon the advice of police, organisers cancelled a Pride parade that was set for Saturday as the highlight of a weeklong festival. Scores of people marched through the capital anyway, waving rainbow flags.
Police attorney Christian Hatlo said it was too early to say whether the gunman specifically targeted members of the LGBTQ community.
“We have to look closer at that, we don’t know yet,” he said.
Hatlo said the suspect was being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and terrorism, based on the number of people targeted at multiple locations. Police said civilians assisted them in detaining the man in custody.
“Our overall assessment is that there are grounds to believe that he wanted to cause grave fear in the population,” Hatlo said.
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. Had they been of drinking age, they would have been at the bar, they said.
“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.” Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.
“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.” Another witness, Marcus Nybakken, 46, said he saw a lot of people running and screaming and thought 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”.
He said that while the motive was unclear, the shooting had caused fear and grief in the LGBTQ community.
“We all stand by you,” Gahr Stoere wrote.
Christian Bredeli, who was at the London Pub, told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid on the fourth floor with a group of about 10 people until he was told it was safe to come out.
“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 television channel TV2 showed footage of people running down Oslo streets in panic as shots rang out in the background.
Investigators said the suspect was known to police, as well as to PST, but not for any major violent crimes. His criminal record included a narcotics offense and a weapons offence for carrying a knife, Hatlo said.
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.
Police advised organisers of the Pride festival to cancel a parade scheduled for Saturday.
“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 cancelled,” organisers said on the official Facebook page of the event.
Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of FRI, a Norwegian organisation 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 has a relatively low crime rate but has experienced a series of so-called lone wolf attacks in recent decades, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe.
In 2011, a right-wing extremist killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.
In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.
Last year, a Norwegian man armed with knives and a bow and arrow killed five people in a town in southern Norway.
The attacker, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was sentenced on Friday to compulsory psychiatric care.