'We had to lock ourselves in': Kongsberg residents recall terror of bow and arrow attack

·7-min read
Flowers and candles are placed at the scene of an attack on the Stortorvet in Kongsberg - Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix via AP
Flowers and candles are placed at the scene of an attack on the Stortorvet in Kongsberg - Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix via AP

The children were deep into band practice inside the church of a small commuter town near Oslo when a man armed with a bow and arrows and a hunting knife walked into a supermarket opposite and began shooting at customers.

The panicked shoppers, and the thud of rogue arrows hitting walls and the smash of a window, was enough to send the church into lockdown.

"He was 100 metres away and we had to lock ourselves in," said one of the teachers in the church, struggling to hold back tears as she placed a candle at a vigil on Thursday with her daughter.

"Three adults looking after 23 eight-year-olds. It was incredibly frightening. The children, everyone caring for them, we were all afraid," she told The Telegraph.

The killer was named on Thursday as Espen Andersen Bråthen, 37, a Danish national and Muslim convert with a history of mental illness. Intelligence agencies described his rampage as an "act of terror".

Espen Andersen Braathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen - Espen Andersen Braathen/AP
Espen Andersen Braathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen - Espen Andersen Braathen/AP

It began just after 6pm local time on Wednesday night, when he entered the supermarket with his small arsenal.

Witnesses said he then left the shop and made his way to a post office, apparently seeking targets where he would find multiple victims and sending locals running for their lives and shop workers diving for cover in doorways.

Police were alerted around 6.15pm and confronted the suspect shortly afterwards, but he managed to escape and continued to roam around the town centre for half an hour before he was finally detained. It was during that half hour that the killings took place, police officials said on Thursday.

Police fired warning shots and Bråthen loosed arrows at officers during the standoff.

Local witnesses told The Telegraph that during the chase he pulled on the door of a residential house, and finding it open went in and murdered the elderly woman who lived there. Her body was found a few minutes later by police.

Other fatalities, who have not yet been named, are believed to have included an organ player at the town’s famous church and a local artist.

All was quiet by the supermarket where Bråthen is accused of beginning his bloody rampage on Thursday afternoon. There was no evidence of a struggle except for a single smashed pane of glass.

But down in the town centre, locals gathered quietly for an unofficial vigil, laying candles alongside bouquets of roses and speaking in hushed tones about the tragedy that has taken place.

"I was so shocked when I heard the news and I thought this is, oh no, not again, are we going to have Kongsberg's answer to the 22nd of July," said Annmari Lofthuz, referring to the day in 2011 when Anders Brievik, a right-wing extremist, murdered 77 people.

Flowers and candles in Kongsberg - Pal Nordseth/AP Photo
Flowers and candles in Kongsberg - Pal Nordseth/AP Photo

Ms Lofthuz said she personally knew "one person at least" among those killed. She said the victim, who she declined to name, was a well-liked and prominent member of the community.

She is not alone in being personally touched by the tragedy.

Kongsberg, a former mining town of 25,000 known chiefly for its church organ and an annual jazz festival, is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone.

"It’s one of the quietest places in Norway. Violence is something that never happens," said Antonio Ramos, a professor at the South Eastern university in Kongsberg. "People know each other here. When something like this happens it is like someone came into your home."

Police admitted on Thursday that Bråthen was known to police as a radicalisation risk.

An arrow left in a wall after an attack in Kongsberg - HAKON MOSVOLD LARSEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
An arrow left in a wall after an attack in Kongsberg - HAKON MOSVOLD LARSEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Prosecutors said he had confessed during questioning to the murders of four women and one man between the ages of 50 and 70 and gave a detailed account of how he carried out the attack, which also left three people injured. Two of the wounded, including an off-duty police officer, were in intensive care on Thursday.

The PST, Norway's national security agency, said on Thursday afternoon the murders "appear to be an act of terrorism", but that police were still investigating the motive.

It said the national terror threat level remained unchanged at "moderate", but police nationwide were ordered to carry weapons as a precaution. Norwegian police are usually unarmed.

It is still unclear what Bråthen's motive was for the random killings.

Ole Bredrup Sæverud, the chief of police in the southeastern district, told a press conference that there were "complicated" investigations around establishing the motive for the crimes, but said they had previous contact with the suspect and there had "been worries of the man having been radicalised".

"We didn't receive any reports of concern related to the detained person in 2021. However, there have been reports against him in the past, and police had followed them up," he said.

He said investigators were "relatively sure that he acted alone". A judge is due to rule on Bråthen's custody on Friday after a psychiatric evaluation.

Bråthen, who had a Danish mother and a Norwegian father and lived locally, had previous convictions for burglary and possession of hashish, Norwegian media reported.

In 2020 he was handed a six-month restraining order against two close family members after threatening to kill one of them.

In 2017 he published a video online in which he described himself as a "messenger" and said: "I'm coming with a warning. Is this really what you want? And for everyone who wants to make up for themselves, then the time has come. Testify that I am a Muslim."

Norway - Victoria Klesty/REUTERS
Norway - Victoria Klesty/REUTERS

A concerned friend wrote to police at the time: "We have been deeply concerned for him for many years. He's not a monster. This is really a sensitive and vulnerable person who has struggled a lot with the psyche and who has never received help. He has been totally confused and pushed everyone away."

Oussama Tlili, the head of the Kongsberg Islamic Centre, said Bråthen had visited the local mosque several times three or four years ago, but appeared to know little about Islam and was more interested in transmitting a "message to humanity".

"He wanted to tell us he was a Muslim and that he had this message. I realised quikcly that he didn’t know anything about Islam or how to practice prayer. I quickly understood that we are dealing with a guy that maybe needs help, but we had to be polite and sit and listen to him," Mr Tili said.

"So I told him that regardless of what the message is, I cannot help him to communicate that message. That’s all he tried, maybe a couple of times."

Two of Bråthen's former neighbours described him as a frightening individual and said they had previously witnessed police pulling him out of his flat in handcuffs.

Norway - TERJE PEDERSEN/NTB/AFP/Getty Images
Norway - TERJE PEDERSEN/NTB/AFP/Getty Images

Silje Limstrand and Gudoon Hersi, who lived next door to the suspected attacker until they moved away last week, told local media that he was a "scary and threatening" man who verbally abused one of them and said Miss Hersi, who is of Asian descent, looked as if she was "burnt".

Norway has seldom been affected by terrorism, but has suffered a number of far-right attacks by lone-wolf actors since Breivik's 2011 attack.

In August 2019, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi Philip Manshaus opened fire in a mosque on the outskirts of Oslo before being overpowered by worshippers, with no one being seriously injured.

Several planned jihadist attacks have also been foiled by security services. The PST had assessed at the beginning of the year that there was a 50-50 chance of a low-tech Islamist terror attacks over the coming 12 months.

However, while investigators search for a reason behind the killings, residents of Kongsberg have been left questioning their assumptions about security.

"It is quite scary that in a small town like Kongsberg where the police station is 500 metres away that we have so little police and that it took them that long. Because they should have been there in five minutes after they got the first call," said one local woman.

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