The shooting at a mosque near Oslo is being treated as an “attempted act of terror”, Norwegian police said Sunday, with the suspect appearing to harbour far-right, anti-immigrant views.
“We are looking at an attempted act of terror,” acting chief of the police operation Rune Skjold told a press conference.
Skjold said the investigation had shown that the man appeared to hold “far-right” and “anti-immigrant” views.
The suspect entered the al-Noor Islamic Centre on Saturday afternoon armed with multiple weapons and opened fire before being overpowered by a man who suffered “minor injuries” in the process.
Only three people were inside the mosque at the time of the attack, and police said they recovered two firearms from the scene but did not specify the type.
Norway was the scene of one of the worst-ever attacks by a right-wing extremist in July 2011, when 77 people were killed by Anders Behring Breivik.
Hours after the attack on Saturday, the body of a young woman related to the suspect was found in a house in Baerum.
Investigators are treating her death as suspicious and have opened a murder probe.
On Sunday, police confirmed that the deceased woman was the suspect’s 17-year-old stepsister.
Police said earlier Sunday they had tried to question the suspect — described as a “young man” around 20 years old with a “Norwegian background” who was living in the vicinity — but he did not want to “give an explanation to police”.
The man had been known to police before the incident, but according to Skjold, he could not be described as someone with a “criminal background”.
There has been a recent spate of white nationalist attacks in the West, including in the United States and in New Zealand where 51 Muslim worshippers were killed in March at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.
The al-Noor Islamic centre in Norway shares its name with the worst affected mosque in the New Zealand attacks.
On Saturday, Norwegian media reported that the suspect was believed to have put up a post to an online forum hours before the attack where he seemingly praised the New Zealand assailant.
In the online post, references were made to a “race war” and it ended with the words “Valhalla awaits”.
The authenticity of the post or the exact identity of its author has not yet been established.
The suspect in the Christchurch killings wrote a hate-filled manifesto in which he said he was influenced by far-right ideologues including Breivik.
Breivik detonated a massive bomb in Oslo that killed eight people and then opened fire on a gathering of the Labour Party’s youth wing on the island of Utoya, killing another 69 people, most of them teenagers.
Local Norwegian newspaper Budstikka said it had contacted the mosque in Baerum in March after the Christchurch massacre and that officials there had said security would be tightened.
The attack took place on the eve of the Muslim celebration of Eidul Azha, marking the end of the Muslim pilgrimage Hajj, stoking fears among Norway’s muslims.
“The terror attack in Baerum is the result of a long-lasting hate of Muslims that has been allowed to spread in Norway, without Norwegian authorities having taken this development seriously,” the Muslim organisation Islamic Council Norway said in a statement.
Oslo police increased security around Sunday’s celebrations, including ordering their patrols to be armed, which is generally not the case.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, called the shooting a “direct attack on Norwegian Muslims,” as well as an “attack on freedom of religion.”
“Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with Norwegian Muslims in condemning the attack,” Solberg said in a Facebook post.
The prime minister was scheduled to attend Eidul Azha celebrations at an Oslo mosque on Sunday afternoon.
According to official estimates from 2016, about 200,000 Muslims live in Norway, representing nearly four percent of the total population.