A series of deadly attacks in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg Wednesday evening came on the eve of Norway’s government transition Thursday morning. Prime Minister Erna Solberg held a press conference Wednesday night in an effort to reassure the public, and stress that “good systems” were in place to handle the dramatic situation.
Police are evaluating the attacks as a possible act of terror, and Justice Minister Monica Mæland quickly ordered Norway’s usually unarmed police to carry weapons. She joined Solberg at the press conference, and said she also had oriented incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre about what Solberg called “an extremely dramatic situation.”
“We are making sure he (Støre) gets all the information he and his staff need,” Mæland said, as they prepared to assume government power. A crisis team had been set up earlier in the evening.
“I understand that many people are scared,” Solberg said. “It’s very seldom in Norway that we have incidents in which many people are killed and injured.” Norway has, however, gone experienced terrorist attacks, both carried out by ultra right-wing extremists.
Solberg stressed that “police have control over the situation” that began in a grocery store in downtown Kongsberg, and reason to believe the assailant acted alone. Police in Kongsberg continued to describe him only as “a man,” refusing to reveal anything else about him. It thus remained unclear whether he has a police record or is a Norwegian citizen.
Local Police Chief Øyvind Aas confirmed that the state’s special criminal investigations unit Kripos had arrived on the scene, to offer competence in investigating the man’s computer use. That suggests he lives in Kongsberg and that his home was already being ransacked. After a dramatic arrest in which police fired warning shots, the man is now being held in custody at a regional police station in Drammen.
He reportedly started shooting arrows at people inside the grocery store with arrows from what may be crossbow, but police declined to reveal more information about his weapon. Witnesses said they saw him roaming the streets with his bow and arrows, and it’s believed he attacked people at ransom.
Police confirmed late Wednesday night that five people were killed and two wounded, including an off-duty police officer who’d been shopping at the grocery store. He and the other person wounded in the attacks were being treated in the intensive care unit at the central hospital in Drammen.
Aas declined to reveal information about the victims, pending notification of next of kin, nor would they reveal if any victims were children or youth. A police spokesman did acknowledge that many were in for a tough day at school on Thursday, indicating minors could be among the victims.
No consequences for the change of government
Solberg stressed that “we don’t know yet what his (the assailant’s) motive was.” If determined to be an act of terror, it would have political implications. Solberg and Mæland insisted the attacks would have no major consequences for the ceremonial change of government on Thursday, but security was expected to be high and Støre will begin his term as prime minister in the midst of a tragedy.
Støre issued a statement calling the attacks “gruesome and brutal.” He also stressed that it was unclear what motivated them, “but we know that several innocent people were killed and more injured.”
“My thoughts and deepest sympathy got now to those affected, their families and to the police, health care workers and emergency crews who are now working hard to gain an overview and help those who need it,” Store told news bureau NTB.