At least two people were killed and ten injured in a shooting at a nightclub in Oslo, Norway, early Saturday morning, Norwegian authorities said, prompting officials to issue the terror alert.
Investigators said the suspect, identified as a 42-year-old Norwegian national originally from Iran, was arrested after opening fire at three locations in downtown Oslo.
Police said two men, one in his 50s and the other in his 60s, died in the shooting. Ten people were treated for serious injuries, but none of them were believed to be life-threatening. Eleven others were slightly injured.
The Norwegian Police Security Service raised its terror alert level from “moderate” to “extreme” – the highest level – after the attack, which saw revelers flee into the streets in panic or try to hide from the gunman.
The service’s acting chief, Roger Berg, called the attack an “extreme Islamist act of terrorism” 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 worried he was radicalized and part of an unspecified Islamist network.
Norwegian media named the suspect Zaniar Matapour, an Oslo resident who came to Norway with his family from a Kurdish part of Iran in the 1990s.
The suspect’s defense attorney, John Christian Elden, said his client had not spoken to investigators and he cautioned against speculating about the motive.
“He didn’t give a reason. It’s too early to determine whether this is hate crime or terrorism,” Elden said in an email to The Associated Press.
On police advice, organizers canceled a Pride march scheduled for Saturday as the culmination of a week-long festival. Nevertheless, countless people marched through the capital with rainbow flags.
Police attorney Christian Hatlo said it was too early to say if the shooter specifically targeted members of the LGBTQ community.
“We have to take a closer look at that, we don’t know that yet,” he said.
Police said civilians helped them arrest the man in custody, who was being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and terrorism, based on the number of people who were attacked in multiple locations.
Investigators seized two weapons after the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon, both of which Hatlo described as “not modern” but gave no details.
Not far from Oslo Cathedral, bars where the shootings took place have been cordoned off with crime scene tape, including the London Pub, popular with the city’s LGBTQ community.
Crowds gathered outside and laid cards and flowers at impromptu memorials.
Martin Ebbestad, 29, had walked by earlier, seen the memorials and returned with flowers.
London Pub “is our hangout. My friend left 20 minutes before (it happened). He was sitting outside in the smoking area,” Ebbestad said. “We know this place so well. It doesn’t feel unsafe, but it does feel very close.”
Olav Roenneberg, a journalist with Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.
“I saw a man arrive at the scene with a bag. He picked up a gun and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “At first I thought it was an airgun. Then the glass in the bar next door shattered and I realized 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 there was a shooting and that someone fired a submachine gun,” Nybakken told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre called the shooting a “cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people”.
He said while the motive is unclear, the shooting sparked fear and grief in the LGBTQ community.
“We all stand by you,” Gahr Støre wrote on Facebook.
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 feared 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 in panic through the streets of Oslo while gunfire rang out in the background.
Police said the suspect had a criminal record that included narcotics offenses and a weapons offense for carrying a knife.
The PST said it approached him in May this year “because he had shown some interest in remarks that were interpreted as an insult to Islam”.
“It was determined during these conversations that he had no intention of violence, but the PST is aware that he had mental health-related issues,” the agency said in a statement.
Police advised Pride festival organizers to cancel a parade planned for Saturday.
“Oslo Pride therefore urges everyone who has planned to attend or see the parade not to show up. All events related to Oslo Pride are canceled,” organizers said on the event’s official Facebook page.
Inge Alexander Gjestvang, head of FRI, a Norwegian organization for sexual and gender diversity, said the shock to the Nordic country’s LGBTQ community.
“We’ll be back later, proud, visible, but right now it’s not the time,” he told TV2.
Norway’s King Harald V offered his condolences to the victims’ families and said the royal family was “appalled” by the attack.
“We must stand together to defend our values: freedom, diversity and respect for one another. We must remain committed to making all people feel safe,” the monarch said.
World leaders condemned the attack on their way to a G7 summit in Germany. The host of the summit, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, tweeted: “The Norwegian people can rest assured of our sympathy. The fight against terror unites us.” French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his condolences in a tweet in Norwegian.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told reporters as he flew with US President Joe Biden to the G-7 summit: “Our hearts obviously go out to all the families of the victims, the people of Norway, which means a tremendous one Ally and of course the LGBTQI+ community, there and around the world, honestly.”
Norway has a relatively low crime rate but has experienced a number of so-called lone gunman 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 detonating a bomb in Oslo that killed eight people.
In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire at a mosque, but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.
Last year, a Norwegian armed himself within a town in southern Norway. It was the attacker who was diagnosed with schizophrenia .