Norway police step up presence at mosques after shooting incident

A Norwegian police officer looks on as people gather before morning prayer in Thon Oslofjord hotel in Sandvika, Norway, on Aug 11, 2019.
A Norwegian police officer looks on as people gather before morning prayer in Thon Oslofjord hotel in Sandvika, Norway, on Aug 11, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (DPA) - A young Norwegian man arrested in connection with a shooting incident at a mosque near the capital Oslo has been briefly questioned, his lawyer said on Sunday (Aug 11). The shooting is being treated as “attempted act of terrorism,” police also said on Sunday.

Police in Oslo and other parts of Norway, meanwhile, were to step up their presence at other mosques in the country as Sunday marked the start of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

The National Police Directorate however said it was not aware of any "concrete threats." The man is suspected of attempted murder in connection with Saturday's shooting incident at the Al-Noor Islamic Centre in Baerum, west of Oslo, and murder after a woman's body was later found in his home in Baerum, police said.

Lawyer Unni Fries declined to comment on what was said during the brief police interview, news agency NTB reported.

Police said they were checking the man's online activity amid reports he had posted a message that hailed the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March a few hours before the mosque incident.

Police were also investigating the relationship between the suspect and the female victim.

"We are investigating the case as a possible murder," Rune Skjold of the Oslo police said late Saturday.

The suspected assailant sustained minor injuries, as did one of the mosque visitors who had overpowered him, Skjold said.

Police prosecutor Pal Fredrik Hjort Kraby said the suspect was due to face a pre-trial detention hearing on Monday in which police would seek a four-week detention period. A new attempt to question him would be made later Sunday.

Police also want a psychiatric assessment at a later stage, he added.

For the time being, the man is charged with attempted murder and murder, but terrorism could be added later, Kraby said.

Skjold said several shots were fired in the mosque and several weapons were found, but did not offer further details.

Skjold also lauded “the bravery” of a member of the mosque who overpowered the suspect on Saturday before police arrived at the scene.

The man, identified as 65-year-old Mohammed Rafiq, made a brief appearance outside a hotel in Baerum where members of the Al-Noor Islamic Centre mosque gathered to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

“I am grateful for the support and assistance I have received, I am still affected by this,” Rafiq said via his lawyer Abdul Satar Ali.

Ali said Rafiq needed to be left in peace. He declined to offer details of how Rafiq overpowered the much younger suspect, citing the ongoing investigation.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg also visited the hotel to show her support.

“What happened is something that should not happen in Norway. Norway should be a safe place,” Solberg told reporters.

Solberg said a majority of Norwegians clearly distance themselves from Islamophobic remarks.

She was accompanied by Jan Tore Sanner, minister of education and integration, and Liberal lawmaker Abid Raja.

Raja said there was a need to raise awareness to combat Islamophobia in Norway, and welcomed messages of support from other Norwegians.

In the capital Oslo, several dozen people assembled in front of the Islamic Cultural Centre mosque to show their support.