August 11, 2022

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Norway terror alert raised after shooting leaves 2 dead, 10 seriously wounded

Norway’s PST intelligence agency has raised its terror alert to the highest level after a mass shooting left two people dead and more than 20 wounded during Pride week in the country’s capital, Oslo.

Acting chief of the Norwegian Police Security Service, Roger Berg, called the shootings an “extreme Islamist terror act.” He said the gunman, who was arrested shortly after the shootings, had a “long history of violence and threats.”

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 —  inside and outside the London Pub, a longstanding hub of Oslo’s LGBTQ scene, in the surrounding streets, and at one other bar in the centre of the city.

While the motive was unclear, organizers of Oslo Pride cancelled a parade that was set for Saturday as the highlight of a weeklong festival. The shootings began just hours before the parade was set to begin.

Police lawyer Christian 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.

‘Wanted to cause grave fear’

“Our overall assessment is that there are grounds to believe that he wanted to cause grave fear in the population,” Hatlo said.

The suspect, who was not named by police, is believed to be a radicalized Islamist who has a history of mental illness, the intelligence service said. He has been known to security services since 2015, the PST said.

People pay their respects near the scene of the shooting in central Oslo on Saturday. (Terje Pedersen/NTB Scanpix/The Associated Press)

The shootings happened around 1 a.m. local time, sending panicked revellers fleeing into the streets or trying to hide from the gunman.

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.”

‘A cruel and deeply shocking attack’

Police said two of the shooting victims died and 10 people were being treated for serious injuries, but none of them was believed to be life-threatening. Eleven other people had minor injuries.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that the shooting was a “cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”

He said 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.”

Suspect known to police

Norwegian broadcaster 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 Norway’s security police, but not for any major violent crimes. His criminal record included a narcotics offence 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.

People take part in a protest march in Oslo after two people were killed and at least 10 were injured when a man opened fire early Saturday morning near a popular LGBTQ club in the city’s downtown, hours before the now-cancelled annual Oslo gay pride parade. (Rodrigo Freitas/Getty Images)

He said the suspect had not made any statement to the police and was in contact with a defence lawyer.

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.

Parade cancelled

Still, police advised organizers of the Pride festival to cancel the parade Saturday.

“Oslo Pride therefore urges everyone who planned to participate or watch the parade to not show up. All events in connection with Oslo Prides are cancelled,” organizers said on the official Facebook page of the event.

Still, several thousand people attended what appeared to be a spontaneous march in central Oslo on Saturday, waving rainbow flags and chanting in English: “We’re here, we’re queer, we won’t disappear.”

King Harald of Norway said he and the royal family were devastated by the attack.

“We must stand together and defend our values: freedom, diversity and respect for each other,” the 85-year-old monarch said.

WATCH | Anti-LGBTQ threats hang over North American Pride celebrations

Anti-LGBTQ threats hang over Pride celebrations

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Duration 4:47

Pride month is underway, but a recent string of violent threats and extremist confrontations are hanging over this year’s celebrations. CBC’s Jayme Poisson looks at what’s fuelling the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and talks to drag performer Tynomi Banks. 

Norway has a relatively low crime rate but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a gunman 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.

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