UPDATED: Sorrow plagued the Norwegian capital once again on Saturday, after a lone gunman set off a deadly rampage during the night. He chose a location just two blocks from the site of a right-wing extremist’s terrorist bombing 11 years ago, and is believed to have targeted people out celebrating on the eve of Oslo’s huge Pride Parade.
Police confirmed Saturday morning that two people were killed and at least 21 injured, eight of whom were rushed to hospital. At least three were listed in critical condition, while police said a total of 10 were “seriously wounded.”
Police later announced that they view the shooting in downtown Oslo as a terrorist attack, and Oslo Pride organizers cancelled the parade that was due to begin at 1pm. All other Pride events were cancelled as well because of security concerns.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that police mounted a rapid and massive response to the shootings, and the gunman was quickly apprehended. He was not immediately identified but police said he had a record of minor offenses and was “known” to both police and Norway’s police intelligence agency PST. They said he was 42 years old and described him as “a Norwegian citizen who is originally from Iran.”
He started shooting around 1:20am, when witnesses including NRK crime journalist Olav Rønneberg first saw a man put a bag on the ground. He then took out a gun and started shooting outside some popular bars located close to the Oslo County House (Tinghuset). One of the bars was the London Pub, long known for a largely gay clientele.
“People began running in all directions, and the pub was quick to get people inside and lock the door,” Rønneberg reported on NRK Saturday morning. “I called the police, so did many others, and they arrived very quickly.” Police also later praised the public for providing lots of tips and eyewitness accounts that led to the quick apprehension of the suspect.
He’s believed to have acted alone. He has since been charged with murder, attempted murder and carrying out a terrorist act, prosecutor Christian Hatlo said at a press conference that began at 9am. “There is reason to believe this involves hate crime,” Hatlo told reporters. “That’s one of the theories,” along with fears that “psychiatric issues” could spark more violence.
Police have no firm indications that other “serious incidents” can occur, but Hatlo said “uncertainty” was the main reason “that we asked that Pride be cancelled.” Oslo is full of people downtown this summer weekend and several other major events were moving forward. Hatlo said police were mounting lots of security measures, “both visible and concealed” tied to the events.
Pride organizers were stunned and disappointed but issued a statement that “now we will follow the police recommendation and take care of one another. Our thoughts go to the survivors, those injured and others affected” by the shootings. “We will soon be proud and visible again, but right now, today, we will mark Pride from home,” stated Inger Kristin Haugsevje, leader of Oslo Pride, and Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of FRI, and organization dedicated to gender and sexual diversity.
Reaction to the shootings was swift, with top politicians both condemning the violence and trying to reassure the public. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, leader of the Labour Party, was informed of the shootings during the night and issued a statement shortly after 6am, calling the attacks “shocking and deeply disturbing,” and that his thoughts went to the victims and their loved ones.
Former prime minister from the Conservatives, Erna Solberg, called the shootings “an attack on love … and the freedom to love who you want to love.” Solberg has long promoted the Pride movement and hosted Pride celebrations at the official residence of the prime minister. She had planned to march in Saturday’s parade herself, and was far from alone in supporting “the hard battle” many face to be themselves.
The president of the Norwegian Parliament, Masud Gharahkhani, called the attacks “brutal” and condemned hatred directed at the Pride movement. “People were in town to celebrate diversity and love,” stated Gharahkhani, an immigrant from the Middle East himself. “Last Saturday we raised the Pride flag for the first time at the Parliament to mark diversity and love. I’m proud of that.”
“This is a gruesome attack on innocent people regardless of the motive,” declared government minister Anette Trettebergstuen, also from the Labour Party, in charge of culture and equality issues and a single lesbian mother herself. “I want to express my deepest sympathy with those who’ve been rammed by this, and their loved ones.”
Trettebergstuen, who’s been active in the Pride movement for years, also said she could understand that many people “are afraid now, but we stand together in this.” She was supported by Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen, who claimed that “Oslo stands side by side with the entire skeive community,” using the term for various forms of gender diversity.
“Now sorrow overshadows everything else,” Johansen said, “but we will stand together today, tomorrow and all the days after that, for the right to love who you want.”