By Associated Press
A gunman opened fire in Oslo’s nightlife district early 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 radicalized 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, organizers canceled 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.”