OSLO (AFP) - Norwegian police have arrested a man suspected of “Islamist terrorism” after two people were killed and 21 wounded in shootings near a gay bar in Oslo on Saturday (June 25), causing the city’s Pride march to be cancelled.
But despite the official march being called off, thousands spontaneously gathered throughout the day to march through the Norwegian capital in a display of unity also seen at Pride marches across Europe.
The suspect, who was already known to security services, was arrested quickly after the shooting started around 1am (7am Singapore time) in central Oslo.
Norway’s domestic intelligence service PST, which is responsible for counter-terrorism, said it was treating the attack as “an act of Islamist terrorism”.
The suspect “has a long history of violence and threats,” PST’s chief Roger Berg said.
The suspect had been on the PST’s radar “since 2015 in connection with concerns about his radicalisation” and membership “in an Islamist extremist network”, Berg told a news conference.
Intelligence services spoke to the suspect last month, but did not consider him to have “violent intentions”, Berg said.
He added that the PST was also aware the suspect had “difficulties with his mental health”.
The suspect’s lawyer, John Christian Elden, told Norwegian news agency NTB he expected his client to be put under “judicial observation” to determine his mental state, as is usually done in such cases.
The suspect has so far refused to be interviewed by investigators.
Police had earlier said the suspect was a 42-year-old Norwegian man of Iranian descent.
Norwegian media named him as Zaniar Matapour, describing him as a father of Iranian Kurdish origin who arrived in Norway as a child.
The two victims were men in their 50s and 60s, the police said, adding that the injuries of the wounded were not life-threatening.
Police said they received the first reports at 1.14am and the suspect was arrested just five minutes later, adding that he was quickly apprehended thanks to the “heroic contribution” of bystanders.
‘We won’t disappear’
Organisers of the Pride march due to take place on Saturday afternoon called it off, saying they were following “clear” recommendations from the police.
Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen later said that the Pride march – the first for three years because of the pandemic – was only postponed and would be held at a later date.
Those who did march on Saturday could be heard shouting: “We’re here, we’re queer, we won’t disappear.”
“I think it’s fantastic that this march is taking place, otherwise he would have won,” a visibly upset participant in her 50s told AFP.
Many people, some in tears, laid rainbow flags and flowers near the scene of the attack, which was cordoned off by police.
Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit struggled to hold back her tears when she went to the scene, which was also visited by Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store and other politicians.
“Today is a day that reminds us that Pride is a day we have to fight for – the goal has not yet been reached,” Trond Petter Aunas said near the scene.
The shootings happened near the London Pub gay club, the Herr Nilsen jazz club and a takeaway food outlet in a central area packed with people on a warm summer night.
‘Overwhelmed by grief’
Norway’s intelligence services raised the country’s threat level from moderate to “extraordinary”, saying that the situation remained unclear.
They were looking into whether other attacks could be possible but said that for the moment “we have no indication of this.”
Police presence was stepped up throughout the capital and officers – who do not normally carry guns in Norway – were instructed to arm themselves.
The attack led to enhanced security for Pride marches taking place across France on Saturday, the French government said.
A moment’s silence for the Oslo victims was held at the start of a pride March in Warsaw, where Polish participants were joined by members of Ukraine’s LGBT+ community.
French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were among the world leaders condemning the attack.
Norway’s premier Store said: “Today was supposed to be a day to celebrate love and brighten our streets in the colours of the rainbow.”
“Instead, we are overwhelmed by grief,” he told a press conference.
Norway’s King Harald V said in a statement that he was “horrified”.
“We have to gather together to defend our values – liberty, diversity and mutual respect,” he said.
Generally peaceful Norway was the scene of bloody attacks on July 22, 2011, when right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people.