What should have been a weekend of celebration for Oslo's LGBTQ+ community turned to one of tragedy, reports Vincent McAviney
Two people were killed and more than 20 injured in what has been labelled an "extreme Islamist terror act," early on Saturday in Norway's capital.
The mass shooting happened around 1am local time (11pm BST) outside a downtown Oslo bar that is popular among the city's LGBTQ+ community, during its annual Pride festival.
The suspect, who investigators identified as a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen who was originally from Iran, was arrested after opening fire at three downtown locations.
Roger Berg, acting chief of Norway's PST security service, 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 PST first became aware of the suspect in 2015 and later became concerned he had become radicalized and was part of an unspecified Islamist network.
PST has raised its terror alert level from "moderate" to “extraordinary” - the highest level, in response.
Police lawyer Christian Hatlo said the suspect was being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and terrorism.
“Our overall assessment is that there are grounds to believe that he wanted to cause grave fear in the population,” Mr Hatlo said.
Police said 10 people were being treated for serious injuries, but none of them were believed to be in life-threatening condition. Eleven other people had minor injuries.
Police spokesman Tore Barstad said the motive was not immediately known and it wasn’t clear whether the shooting had any connection to the Pride parade that was to be held on Saturday, which has now been cancelled.
“We are shocked and saddened by the tragic incident, and we are following it closely,” Oslo Pride said in a Facebook statement. “Our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.”
The shots were fired outside the London Pub, which describes itself as the most popular gay bar in Oslo since it opened in 1979.
Christian Bredeli, who was at the bar, told Norwegian newspaper VG of how 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."
Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he also 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.”
Marcus Nybakken, 46, said he saw a lot of people running and screaming and thought it was a fist fight.
“But then I heard that it was a shooting and that there was someone shooting with a submachine gun,” Nybakken told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.
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 offense for carrying a knife, Mr Hatlo said.
He added police had seized two weapons after the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon.
It was too early to say whether the gunman specifically targeted members of the LGBTQ+ community, he continued.
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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.
Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of FRI, the Norwegian organisation for sexual and gender diversity, said the shooting has shaken the Nordic country’s LGBTQ+ community.
“We encourage everyone to stand together, take care of each other. We’ll be back later, proud, visible but right now it’s not the time for that,” he told TV2.
King Harald V of Norway 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.
The country 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.
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 Friday to compulsory psychiatric care.