The 21-year-old Norwegian charged with firing shots inside a mosque and murdering his Chinese-born step-sister last weekend agreed on Monday to undergo a pre-trial psychiatric observation. He now refuses to undergo more questioning by police, but has told them that his main goal was “to scare Muslims.”
Unni Fries, defense attorney for Philip Manshaus of Bærum, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday that he’s now willing to cooperate with “a pre-judicial observation,” but doesn’t want to face more questioning by police.
He finally agreed to talk late last week. “He has explained that the attack in the mosque was tied to religion, a desire to scare Muslims,” prosecutor Pål-Fredrik Hjort Kraby told newspaper Aftenposten after a three-and-a-half hour session of police questioning on Saturday. At that time, Manshaus was willing to undergo more questioning, but has since changed his mind.
Manshaus’ motive for allegedly killing his sister before leaving for the mosque on August 10 was not revealed. Police have said they are working on the theories that either she became aware of his plans to attack a mosque and tried to stop him, or that he killed her because of her ethnicity. Manshaus has expressed right-wing extremist views and stated that he believes only white Norwegians should be allowed to live in Norway.
‘Detailed’ but undisclosed explanation
Police had earlier said that at an initial round of questioning on Friday, Manshaus gave a “detailed” explanation of his motive to carry out his acts at the two scenes of the crimes. He has acknowledged the facts in both attacks, but continues to deny criminal liability. Kraby described him as “calm” and willing to engage in what’s called fri forklaring,” where a suspect can just speak without the police asking questions.
Around 50 police officers are involved in the investigation, including Manshaus’ online activity that involved various websites and Internet fora. “We believe that’s where much of his radicalization took place,” Kraby said. All members of his family have also been questioned.
Police had hoped for another round of questioning this week, perhaps on Wednesday, but that won’t happen. “Philip Manshaus has told us that he, at the moment, doesn’t want to meet up for more sessions of police questioning,” his defense attorney said. She wouldn’t say why. The upcoming psychiatric observation is meant to help determine whether he’s fit to stand trial.
Elderly Muslims held him off
More details have emerged about what exactly happened when Manshaus drove up to the Al-Noor Islamic Centre at Skui in Bærum, west of Oslo, in a car belonging to his family. Wearing a uniform and helmet equipped with a video camera, and carrying “several” weapons, he first shot through a glass entry door.
“We understood that an attack was underway,” Muhammad Iqbal, one of only three people at the mosque at the time, told Aftenposten over the weekend. One of them ran outside to call police and attempt to stop cars driving by the mosque, while the 76-year-old Iqbal and 65-year-old Muhammad Rafiq positioned themselves against a wall. Manshaus allegedly shot at them but missed, while Rafiq told Aftenposten he suddenly “felt a rush of strength” and he jumped on top of the man: “I got a hard grip around him and managed to bring him to the floor.”
Manshaus allegedly lost hold of “at least three weapons” and “fought hard to get loose,” according to Rafiq. “I knew I’d die if I let him go, so I held him as hard as I could.” Iqbal, meanwhile, has suffered both a stroke and heart attacks and said he couldn’t help much, “but he had a rifle hanging around him, so I took it from him and and hit him a few times with it.” When Manshaus appeared in court for his custody hearing last week, his face was bruised and he sported two black eyes.
External probe launched of police response
Police arrived around 20 minutes later, a delay reportedly caused by some communication challenges between the third man who’d called for help without being able to speak Norwegian. His mobile phone also lacked a SIM card, so police couldn’t track an exact location, but rightly assumed Bærum’s only mosque was under attack. Dispatchers made the situation “Priority 1,” ordering the fastest possible response.
Benedicte Bjørnland, the new director of Norway’s national police, has now ordered an external investigation of the response itself, and a probe of how tips last year about Manshaus’ white supremacist views were handled. Her decision to call for an external examination by an independent commission was made in cooperation with the Oslo Police District, the police intellingence unit PST that she headed until last spring, and the state Police Directorate.
Norwegian police came under harsh criticism for their botched response to the bombing and massacre carried out by another young white Norwegian man on July 22, 2011 that left 77 dead and scores more wounded. The police and the military have since worked hard to better cooperate and improve response to national emergencies.