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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Oslo Pride terror trial underway

The Oslo County Courthouse is once again the scene of a major terror trial, this time centering around a radicalized Iranian immigrant who came to Norway when he was 12 years old. Thirty years later he went on a shooting spree during Oslo’s annual Pride celebrations in June 2022, killing two, wounding nine and traumatizing hundreds of others in what prosecutors claim was a terrorist attack.

The Oslo County Courthouse (Tinghuset) is located right where the shootings took place during Oslo Pride celebrations in 2022, for which gunman Zaniar Matapour is now on trial. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Questions continue to swirl around the 44-year-old defendant Zaniar Matapour. He has steadfastly refused to answer any questions or cooperate with police investigators, and he also has refused to testify during his trial. He was present in the courtroom when it began this week, but remained defiant, even refusing to rise when the panel of judges took their places. Nor would he rise when the lengthy charges against him were read out aloud, breaking his silence to tell the judge that he would remain sitting.

Matapour did utter a few more words as formalities got underway, though, to complain that his trial was taking place during the muslim holiday period of Ramadan. He pointed to “pauses” observed during other Jewish and Christian religious holiday periods, including Saturdays, Sundays and the upcoming Easter holidays.

Judge Eirik Aas responded that “we will carry this out even though it’s Ramadan,” claiming he hadn’t been aware there was a conflict and quickly returning to his request for confirmation of the defendant’s name and birthdate, which Matapour then provided.

It all symbolized the tension around the trial that Norwegian prosecutor Sturla Henriksbø described as “the most serious terrorist attack (in Norway) since July 22 (2011),” when a right-wing extremist killed 77 people in Oslo and at a Labour Party summer camp on the island of Utøya. The expanded courtroom where that trial took place is now the venue for Matapour’s trial, which attracted lots of participants, spectators, press and high security.

Henriksbø went into detail about the fatal wounds of the two men shot and killed by Matapour as they sat at an outdoor pub frequented by the gay community celebrating Oslo Pride in June 2022. A total of 269 people are listed as victims of Matapour’s shooting, suffering either injuries, psychological trauma or the deaths of loved ones. All are considered eligible for financial compensation of at least NOK 350,000 per person (around USD 35,000).

Customers sitting outside the popular Herr Nielsen pub and concert venue, located just across the street from the Oslo County Courthouse, also had to dive for cover when the shooting started. Flowers and flags piled up at all the shooting sites as Norwegians reacted to the shootings during gay pride events. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

The prosecutor described Matapour as a man with a troubled childhood and a history of broken relationships. He had his first child with a Norwegian woman in 2001, then two more after a traditional Muslim marriage in 2017 that ended in divorce with his wife gaining custody of their daughter born in 2018 and son born in 2019. He was said to have a history of mental illness and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in 2000 when he was just 20.

Court-appointed psychiatrists have since, however, declared that he was not psychotic when he carried out the shootings. They’re believed to be tied to a declaration of allegiance to the Islamic extremist group IS just an hour before he started shooting at pedestrians and patrons of gay bars next door and across the street from the courthouse.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has been covering much of the terror trial live this week on national TV. Gunman Zaniar Matapour, charged with terrorism after his mass shooting during Oslo Pride celebrations in 2022, has refused to testify at his own trial. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The prosecutor gave a detailed summary of Matapour’s movements on the day of the shooting, June 24, 2022. He’s said to have left his apartment on Bernt Ankers Gate in downtown Oslo just before 3:30pm, ate dinner at a small restaurant in Grünerløkka, visited a mosque in his neighbourhood and then traveled out to Bjørndal on Oslo’s south side, where he made an audio tape of his allegiance to IS around midnight.

Police pieced together a video of his movements later that night, showing in chilling detail how he got off a tram back near the courthouse carrying a large black bag that contained his weapons. The video, shown in court, captures how he started shooting, how screaming targets dove for cover and others were shot until several passersby chased Matapour down, lunged at him and wrestled him to the ground, holding him there until police arrived. They’ve since received awards of bravery from the City of Oslo.

Matapour was then taken into custody and has remained mostly mum during the roughly 21 months since. Police found papers on him with several phone numbers linked to others who may have prodded him into the shooting attack.

It’s since emerged that Norway’s foreign intelligence agency E-tjenesten had warned police of a possible terrorist attack in Norway, after one of their agents allegedly posing as an IS warrior had contact with two other radical Norwegian Islamists including Arfan Bhatti, now in custody in Pakistan. Bhatti, who’s since been charged in the Pride shootings along with Matapour and three others, has resisted extradition to Norway.

Matapour’s defense attorney Marius Dietrichson made it clear during his opening arguments that they would not be contesting what Matapour actually did on the night of June 24-25. Matapour’s court-appointed defense team will, however, question whether the involvement of Norway’s top-secret intelligence operation amounted to provocation by E-tjenesten’s agent. Prosectutor Henriksbø has already denied it did but faces a challenge from the defense team that seeks more information on the issue.

Matapour, meanwhile, faces 30 years in prison and possibly a life term, since he’s indicted on charges tied to terms for those guilty of terrorism. He may still be deemed mentally unfit for prison, with three court-appointed psychiatrists observing him throughout the trial, which was due to run through the week.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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