COPENHAGEN (REUTERS, AFP) - At least three people were killed in a shooting at a shopping centre in Copenhagen on Sunday (July 3), Danish police said, adding they had arrested a 22-year-old Danish man believed to have sought psychiatric help.
The attack rocked Denmark at the end of an otherwise joyful week, just after it hosted the first three stages of the Tour de France cycle race, in an event that had sent thousands of cheering Danes into streets across the country.
“Denmark was hit by a cruel attack on Sunday night. Several were killed. Even more wounded. Innocent families shopping or eating out. Children, adolescents and adults,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a statement late on Sunday.
“Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second,” she said. “I want to encourage the Danes to stand together and support each other in this difficult time.”
Copenhagen police said armed officers were sent to Field’s mall in the capital late on Sunday afternoon after reports of a shooting, and had told people inside to stay put and await assistance. Local media footage showed groups of terrified shoppers running from the mall.
Police launched a massive search operation throughout the local Zealand region early Sunday evening, Chief Police Inspector Soren Thomassen told journalists, but said there was no initial indication other shooters had been present.
Mr Thomassen declined to speak about the suspect’s potential motives and whether he was known to police.
But he did say the suspect was known to have availed of mental heath services.
"Our suspect is... known among psychiatric services. Beyond that, I do not wish to comment," he said.
Victims randomly targeted
Mr Thomassen added that the victims appeared to have been randomly targeted, and there was nothing to indicate it was an act of terror.
Police have said they believe videos of the suspect circulating since Sunday evening on social media appear to be authentic. The young man can be seen posing with weapons, mimicking suicide gestures and talking about psychiatric medication “that does not work”.
YouTube and Instagram accounts believed to belong to the suspect were closed overnight.
The three killed have been identified as a Danish woman and man, both aged 17, and a 47-year-old Russian residing in Denmark.
Another four were injured in the shooting: two Danish women, aged 19 and 40, and two Swedes, a 50-year-old man and a 16-year-old woman.
'He was just shooting into the crowd'
Danish tabloid BT published unverified video footage it said was shot by a witness to the attack, Mr Mahdi Al-wazni, showing a man with a large rifle walking through the mall and swinging it around his shoulders.
“He seemed very aggressive and shouted different things,” Mr Al-wazni told BT.
Footage published by tabloid Ekstra Bladet showed one person being carried by rescue workers into an ambulance on a stretcher.
“People first thought it was a thief ... Then I suddenly hear shots and threw myself behind the counter inside the store,” an eyewitness, Ms Rikke Levandovski, told broadcaster TV2.
“He is just shooting into the crowd, not up in ceiling or into the floor,” she added.
The multi-storey shopping mall is located around 5km south of downtown Copenhagen.
“My friend and I... suddenly we hear shots. I hear about ten shots and then run as fast as we can into a toilet. We squeeze into this tiny toilet where we are around 11 people,” another witness who gave her name as Isabella told public broadcaster DR.
Terrorist threat assessed as 'serious'
The attack follows a deadly shooting in neighbouring Norway last week, in which two people were killed by a lone shooter in the capital Oslo.
The terrorist threat against Denmark is currently assessed to be “serious”, with the biggest threat coming from “militant Islamism”, according to the latest report from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service
The threat to Denmark from rightwing extremists is considered at a “general” level, which means there is capability and/or intent and possibly planning.
Denmark last saw a militant attack in 2015, when two people were killed and six police officers wounded when a lone gunman shot and killed a man outside a culture centre hosting a debate on freedom of speech, and later killed a person outside a Jewish synagogue in central Copenhagen.
That gunman was killed in a shoot-out with police.
A concert that was supposed to be held by singer Harry Styles on Sunday night in the Royal Arena, not far from the shopping centre, was cancelled, police said.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathy are with the victims, their relatives and all those affected by the tragedy,” Denmark’s Queen Margrethe and the Crown Prince couple said in a statement.
An event in southern Denmark to commemorate the end of the Tour de France stages, hosted by the Crown Prince and with Frederiksen in attendance, was also cancelled.