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Norway mass shooting is being investigated as terrorism, police say

The shooting, on a warm summer night that saw streets filled with revellers, came hours before Oslo was set to host big crowds for its first Pride parade since 2019.

People react as they lay flowers at the scene of a shooting in central Oslo. (AP)

Written by Henrik Pryser Libell and Mike Ives

A 10-day Pride festival in Norway was cut short Saturday after an early-morning shooting left two people dead and at least 10 others seriously wounded outside a popular gay club in downtown Oslo.

Police are investigating the attack as an act of terrorism. But the motive of the gunman, who police said was detained within minutes, was still unclear Saturday afternoon, according to a lawyer for Oslo police. Police were also investigating the attack as a hate crime because it occurred outside London Pub, a center of gay nightlife in Oslo. The pub opened in the 1970s and bills itself on its website as “the most-visited gay place in Norway.”

The man they detained, police said, was a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen who was originally from Iran and had a record of minor crimes. He had been known to the Norwegian Police Security Service since 2015.

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Police said that they had agreed to a request by the detained man’s lawyer for a psychiatric evaluation. The lawyer, John Christian Elden, said in an email that it was “too early to conclude whether the actions have anything to do with Pride, a hate crime or terrorism.”

The shooting, on a warm summer night that saw streets filled with revellers, came hours before Oslo was set to host big crowds for its first Pride parade since 2019. The event’s organisers canceled the parade and the rest of the festival, which was to run through Monday, at the suggestion of police.

“We encourage all of Norway to show solidarity and celebrate Pride at home, in their neighbourhoods and towns,” Inger Kristin Haugsevje, the leader of Oslo Pride, said in a statement. Despite the parade’s cancellation, hundreds of people showed up Saturday for an impromptu march along the route and a rally near the club, waving flags and laying bouquets in a show of unity.

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The gunman — who police said they believed had acted alone — opened fire around 1 am outside the London Pub and another nightclub, as well as a diner. The lawyer for Oslo police, Christian Hatlo, said that officers had seized two weapons, including a fully automatic one that he described as “not a modern gun.” Both weapons were unregistered, police said.

The two people killed in the attack were both men, in their 50s and 60s, police said. Hatlo said that, along with the 10 people who were seriously wounded, 11 others were left with minor injuries, some caused during a panicked rush to flee the area.

Hatlo said that authorities had charged the man with murder, attempted murder and terrorism, adding that police were investigating the shooting as a terrorist attack because of the number of crime scenes and the number of deaths and injuries. In response, authorities raised the country’s terrorism threat alert to its highest level.

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Shootings in Norway are rare. Gun owners must be licensed and take safety classes, and a ban on semi-automatic weapons enacted by Parliament — a belated response to a 2011 attack by a far-right gunman who killed 77 people — took effect last year.

Witnesses to the attack said that there had been a long line to enter the London Pub, a late-night spot that closes at 3:30 am and that was already packed with partygoers. The gunman arrived at the scene with a bag, picked up a gun and started shooting, Olav Ronneberg, a crime reporter for the Norwegian public broadcaster, NRK, who happened to be in the area, told the outlet.

When the shooting began, people scrambled.

“The line dissolved in seconds,” said Sigurd Storm, an interior designer and blogger who had just left the club when the assault began. “I ran. I saw, to my side, a man falling.”

Storm said he escaped into a hotel, where he called his mother. “I called her to tell her I love her — in case this was my final hour,” he said, “and she is the person I care about most.”

Jonas Gahr Store, Norway’s prime minister, described the shooting as a “cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”

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“Our thoughts go to those who last night lost someone they love, to those who are injured and those who today feel scared and vulnerable,” Store said.

Some LGBTQ people reacted with shock that such a shooting could happen in a country where gay people are widely accepted, safety is not seen as a major issue and rainbow flags are common in shops and restaurants. Norway, in 1993, was the second country in the world, behind Denmark, to allow same-sex registered partnerships, and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009. The Norwegian government in April apologised on the 50th anniversary of the repeal of laws criminalising sex between men.

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On Saturday afternoon, Isack Tronaas, 17, delivered flowers to a memorial about a block away from the bar, where police had cordoned off the area. He said that he had planned to attend the Pride parade, as he does every year, but he was not sure what he and other LGBTQ people in the city would do instead this weekend.

“This is a really hard situation because things like this don’t happen often in Norway,” he said, in tears. “It’s a peaceful country, but people still hate each other. Why can’t people just love each other?”

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Herman Ellegard, who said he had been celebrating Pride at a nearby bar, said that the attack had made him feel suddenly unsafe. “We only wish to celebrate love and diversity,” he said, adding that it was “gruesome that some want to ruin the celebration of freedom.”

Masud Gharahkhani, the speaker of Norway’s Parliament, condemned the shooting on his Facebook page. Gharahkhani, a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin, said that the Parliament building had hoisted the Pride flag for the first time last Saturday to “celebrate diversity and love.”

“I am proud of that,” he said. “I have seen time after time how hate flourishes in social media when we celebrate queer diversity. That is sad and unacceptable.”

First published on: 26-06-2022 at 02:32:20 pm
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