Security boosted at mosques, court

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UPDATED: Norwegian police and the public themselves were boosting security at mosques around the country, as Muslims began their most important holiday season this week. In Oslo, neighbours literally formed a ring around a local mosque after a young Norwegian man fired shots inside a mosque in suburban Bærum and also was charged with killing his own adopted sister.

Norwegian neighbours of a mosque in downtown Oslo spontaneously formed a ring around it on Sunday, in a show of support and solidarity. Police were also sent to patrol the area as security around mosques rose. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Security was high at the Oslo County Court on Monday, too, when the suspect showed up for his custody hearing. He was, as expected, ordered held for at least four weeks while police continue to investigate the charges against him.

Leading Muslims expressed gratitude for the shows of support and solidarity, after the young man was arrested and charged with attempted murder, murder and, it emerged on Monday, for carrying out a terrorist act. He continues to refuse to respond to the charges against him.

Norwegian media finally began publicly identifying him on Monday, as 21-year-old Philip Manshaus of Eiksmarka in Bærum, just west of Oslo. Norwegian media have a long tradition of withholding defendants’ identities prior to any conviction. Manshaus, however, is known to have been active on right-wing extremist websites and for openly expressing white supremacist views. Newspaper Aftenposten reported how he has claimed that the online “race war” must be moved to the real world, while Norwegian media in general were quick to draw parallels to the right-wing extremist threat that so painfully resulted in the bombing and massacre of July 22, 2011 that killed 77 people. International media, meanwhile, had few if any qualms about identifying Manshaus early.

Valuing solidarity
Some of Manshaus’ fellow students at a Norwegian high school had also expressed alarm over his views and reported them to school officials. The officials did not, however, forward them to police but Norwegian media outlets have reported that police were aware of his extremist views. Police confirmed that on Monday, but stated that they lacked “foundation” for following up tips about him. It remained unclear whether Manshaus was under any surveillance before he started shooting at the mosque in Bærum, where only a few people were actually present. He was quickly tackled and contained by two elderly Muslims at the mosque, and there were no casualties.

Now police are responding to the extremist threat by sending patrols to several mosques and boosting preparedness. “This is so everyone can celebrate (their religious holiday) as safely as possible,” police stated in a press release over the weekend. Several top state politicians and the mayor of Bærum where the mosque shooting occurred also claimed that all worshippers must be able to feel safe.

“We highly value this,” Norway’s Islamic Council stated on its own social media pages, also that many Norwegians have contacted the council and want to help guard mosques that will be holding special Id holiday gatherings in the weeks ahead.

‘A sin to blend races’
While some claimed that Saturday’s shootings were the result of “longtime hatred” and especially “Islam phobia” that has been allowed to fester in Norway, the shooting suspect hasn’t only targeted Muslims either online or in conversations with friends. “He believed it was a sin to blend races,” one fellow student told VG. She described him as initially seeming “polite and kind,” but said he changed during the course of the school year.

Philip Manshaus clearly showed signs of having been beaten after two elderly Muslims he was trying to shoot on Saturday fought back and held him until police arrived. The 21-year-old Norwegian now faces the country’s longest prison term, also for allegedly murdering his step-sister. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“He claimed that only white Norwegians should live in Norway and that no one else belonged here,” she said, adding that he became a Christian, began avidly reading the Bible and considered joining a neo-nazi organization. He was also “anti-women and anti-immigration,” she said.

Aftenposten reported that when police arrived at Manshaus’ family home in Eiksmarka Saturday night, they found the body of a young woman whom police initially described as his 17-year-old step-sister. She was identified Monday evening as Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen. Police won’t say how she was killed, but he’s been charged with her murder, and is believed to have killed her before leaving for the mosque at Skui in Bærum where witnesses said he was wearing a uniform and helmet.

Police also disclosed late Monday that his helmet was equipped with a mobile video camera to tape his thwarted attack on Muslims at the mosque. Police have no evidence of any live-streaming of the video, they have seized the video and noted that it provides them with “important evidence” in the case against Manshaus.

Police said on Monday that the 17-year-old, whose friends described her to Aftenposten as “always very caring and kind towards everyone around her,” had been adopted into Manshaus’ family. Abid Raja, a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party who’s a Muslim himself, said on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s nightly national newscast Sunday that Manshaus’ step-sister was ethnically Chinese, suggesting that ethnicity could have played a role in her murder. Police remained highly restrictive with information about Manshaus’ family and the 17-year-old’s murder.

Won’t respond to police questioning
Manshaus’ defense attorney Unni Fries said her client denied all criminal blame and has so far “chosen to exercise his right to refuse to clarify” his positions. He continued to refuse to explain his actions or defend himself at his custody hearing on Monday, merely demanding he not be held criminally liable and instead be released from prison.

Prosecutors asked the Oslo County Court to keep him in custody for at least four weeks in full isolation. They also asked the court to conduct his custody hearing, at which he was not expected to respond to questions, behind closed doors. The court granted the requests, citing a “strong degree of possibility” that he would commit more crimes “of the same character if he’s not imprisoned.” He was denied access to communication and media during the entire period of his remand custody.

Prosecutors asked him whether he was willing to undergo a psychiatric examination. His defense attorney responded, according to NRK, that they’d need to get back to that.

NRK was among Norwegian media opting to publicly identify Manshaus on Monday, because of the “extremely serious character” of the charges against him. When they were expanded to include terrorism, NRK decided that the public had a legitimate need for information “about who this person is,” in line with the Norwegian Press Federation’s guidelines regarding identification in cases involving “serious and repeated criminal acts.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund