Norway Police Investigate Mosque Attack as Attempted ‘Act of Terrorism’ Express News
OSLO — The police in Norway said on Sunday that they were investigating a foiled attack at a mosque near Oslo as an attempted act of terrorism, after a white gunman in a helmet and body armor opened fire but was overpowered before injuring anyone.
They also said that a young woman found dead in the suspect’s home was his 17-year-old stepsister.
The mosque attack, on Saturday, came amid a polarizing debate in the country about immigration and Islam, and prompted the authorities to order police officers to guard mosques in the city. Officers, who generally do not carry weapon, were armed for the rest of the weekend, the authorities said.
“I guarantee that the police are doing everything we can to keep people safe,” a police spokesman, Jan Eirik Thomassen, said at a news conference on Sunday.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who expressed sympathy after the attack, said in a statement: “This is not supposed to happen in Norway. Norway should be safe. All places of worship shall be safe.”
Only three people were in the mosque, al-Noor Islamic Center in Baerum, preparing for Sunday’s celebration of the Eid al-Adha holiday, when a gunman opened fire there, the authorities said.
The unidentified suspect, who had several guns in his possession when he was arrested, had expressed anti-immigrant and extremist views online, the authorities said.
“We’re investigating this as an attempt at carrying out an act of terrorism,” a police spokesman, Rune Skjold, said at a news conference on Sunday, adding, “We have no information indicating that he is part of any larger network.”
Mr. Skjold said a preliminary investigation had revealed that the suspect expressed sympathy for, among other controversial figures, Vidkun Quisling, who was prime minister during the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II.
The suspect, who has not revealed his motives to the police, also recently wrote in an online forum that the gunman who killed more than 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, “a saint,” and wrote: “It’s been fun. Valhalla awaits.”
Mr. Skjold said the suspect — a Norwegian citizen from the municipality where the mosque is located — had been charged with attempted murder in connection with the mosque attack and with murder after the young woman’s body was found.
The suspect will appear before a judge on Monday to determine whether he will remain in police custody.
Norway has been grappling with the fear of rising extremist violence tied to immigration at least since 2011, when an attacker killed 92 people in a bombing and mass shooting. He left behind a detailed manifesto listing grievances about immigration and Islam, and calling for a Christian war to defend Europe against a threat of Muslim domination.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Solberg wrote on Facebook that the latest attempted attack was an assault on all Muslims in Norway, an attack on freedom of religion and “an attack on Norway.”
She added, “The perpetrator was alone, but we now his attitudes are shared by more.”
Yet Ms. Solberg’s attempt to send a message of unity was complicated by her leadership of a governing coalition that including the far-right, anti-immigration Progress Party.
Some social media commenters said that Norway’s government did too much to protect Muslims, while others argued that it did too little. And some people accused the prime minister of grieving only over the mosque, and not for the family of the dead woman.
But on Sunday, as Muslims celebrated the beginning of Eid al-Adha, many Norwegians who were not Muslim gathered outside mosques in Oslo to stand guard. Some held posters saying, “Safe in prayer.” They included at least one cabinet minister.
A 65-year-old worshiper, Mohamed Rafiq, who helped thwart the attack and held the suspect until the police arrived, was hailed as a hero on social media and in the news media.
“These people have shown great courage,” Mr. Skjold said of those who helped stopped the attack.
Irfan Mushtaq, a former director of al-Noor Islamic Center and board member who witnessed the attack, said “extreme-right attitudes have become everyday matters” for Muslims in Norway. He said he was pleased that the police were investigating the attack as an act of attempted terrorism.
In March, the mosque introduced safety measures, including ID cards for entrants, after the New Zealand attack, according to the local news media.
Still, a spokesman for the mosque, Waheed Ahmed, told a local newspaper, “We thought we were safe in Norway, but it turns out we were not.”