The skies over Oslo seemed to be crying through the weekend, as heavy rain poured down on spontaneous memorials set up after a mass shooting late Friday night. Police, meanwhile, were having trouble getting the jailed gunman to talk, and security concerns cancelled yet another major demonstration meant to promote Pride.
“We can’t guarantee public safety,” Martin Strand, operations leader for the Oslo Police, told state broadcaster NRK. He claimed the organizers had initially “talked about a small commemoration, but now it’s developed into a very large event. We don’t recommend they carry that out.”
After urging as many as possible to attend the new Pride demonstration on the large plaza in front of Oslo City Hall, city government leader Raymond Johansen suddenly had to tell people to stay away. “Police have come with new advice, and asked Oslo Pride to postpone its arrangement at Rådhusplassen (the plaza) this evening,” Johansen announced late Monday afternoon. He had to retract firm statements Sunday that the gathering, which he’d hoped would draw hundreds of thousands of people, would be safe. “As city government leader, I ask everyone to follow the police’s recommendation.”
State police director Benedicte Bjørnland cited information from police intelligence agency PST (Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste) and concerns that non-heterosexual groups are considered an enemy of Islamic extremists. PST has raised the threat of terrorism to its highest level, citing an “extraordinary threat situation.”
As work crews started dismantling stages and sound equipment in front of City Hall Monday afternoon, Johansen insisted that “we stand shoulder to shoulder with Oslo Pride, the gay community and their events in the time to come.”
Police continued trying to get the now 43-year-old gunman, Zaniar Matapour, to cooperate with the first of several ongoing attempts at questioning. Police want to know what motivated Matapour’s attacks, whether he acted alone or in cooperation with others. He’s refused to talk or allow the questioning to be taped or filmed.
A local court ordered him on Monday to be held in prison for at least four weeks while police continue to investigate the mass shooting he carried out in downtown Oslo in front of countless witnesses. Many of them filmed his rampage that left two men dead and 21 wounded. Several of those shot have since been released from hospital and those critically wounded were reported to be recovering. Matapour remains charged with murder, attempted murder and carrying out an act of terrorism.
Matapour was arrested, with the help of the public, not long after he was seen setting down a bag on the street (Rosenkrantz gate) where both gay and straight bars are located. Then he pulled an unregistered automatic weapon out of the bag and started shooting. When he had trouble with the weapon, he dropped it and started using a handgun. Terrified passersby started running for their lives, while startled customers at outdoor bars and cafés dove for the ground, or sought refuge inside. The two people killed have been identified as Kaare Hesvik, born in 1962 and a resident of suburban Bærum, and Jon Isachsen, born in 1968 and a resident of Oslo. Isachsen, who had just celebrated his 54th birthday, is survived by his wife and a grown son.
The gunman has been described as a radical Islamist who came to Norway from Iran as a boy. He has a history of domestic violence, narcotics convictions and attempted murder, but the latter charges were dropped. He’s been on PST’s radar since 2015, because of radicalization concerns, but neighbours told newspaper Aftenposten that he was friendly, was often seen with Norwegian friends and with his children. He reportedly lived alone in a downtown apartment not far from the scene of his mass shooting, which has been linked to the Pride movement mostly since a gay pub was among his targets. People were also out celebrating on the eve of Norway’s large Oslo Pride parade, which ended up being cancelled.
Matapour reportedly has visited several mosques in Oslo in recent years, always alone. Basim Gholzan of Oslo’s Islamic Federation (Rabita) told Aftenposten that he never showed any signs of violence although he was involved in a conflict at the Rabita mosque that Gholzan was asked to mediate. The nature of the conflict was not revealed. “I viewed him as kind and very cooperative,” Gholzan said.
Several media outlets in Norway have reported that Matapour has had contact with Arfan Bhatti, the radical Islamist who’s often been in trouble with the law. Muslim organizations in Norway, meanwhile, have condemned the shootings and expressed sorrow for those killed and injured.
“These kinds of acts have nothing to do with Islam,” claimed Fahad Qureshi, leader of Islam Net. “It’s unacceptable to kill other people, whether they’re homosexual or heterosexual.” He worried that the mass shooting will “create more hostility, and stir up the hatred some have towards Muslims.” Many members of the non-heterosexual community in turn feel that hatred is often directed at them.
There were lots of expressions of mourning and consolation during the weekend, including a special memorial service at the Oslo Cathedral that included the prime minister, the crown princess and other Norwegian leaders. “Lots of us have been crying, but fortunately there were others around us for those who needed a hug,” 16-year-old Lara Prohic told Aftenposten while standing behind a Pride stand for the Labour Party’s youth organization AUF on Sunday. AUF was itself the target of Norway’s worst terrorist attack on July 22, 2011, when a right-wing extremist bombed government headquarters and then gunned down AUF members at their summer camp. The attacks killed 77 people and wounded scores more.