HELSINKI -- Norway on Saturday announced it will hold an independent investigation into the actions of police and security agencies following a bow-and-arrow attack that killed five people and injured three others. Police have been criticized for reacting too slowly to contain the massacre, acknowledging that the five deaths took place after police first encountered the attacker.
Norway's domestic intelligence agency, known by the acronym PST, said it decided to seek the review after consulting with the country's national and regional police commanders about the attack Wednesday night in the southern town of Kongsberg. A 37-year-old local resident who police said has admitted to the killings has been detained and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
“Given the seriousness of the matter, it is very important that learning points and any weaknesses and errors are identified quickly in order to be able to implement measures immediately,” PST said in a statement.
Norwegian media have questioned how long it took officers to apprehend suspect Espen Andersen Braathen after the regional police department received reports about a man shooting arrows at a supermarket. According to a police timeline, the first information on the attack was logged at 6:13 p.m. and Andersen Braathen was caught at 6:47 p.m.
Authorities haven't revealed what precisely happened within that 34-minute period.
In general, police officials say the first officers on the scene observed the suspect but took cover and called for reinforcements when arrows were fired at them. The officials have acknowledged the armed suspect got away and then likely killed the five victims between the ages of 52 and 78 both outdoors and inside some apartments.
Norway is one of the few dozen countries in the world where law enforcement officers don’t automatically carry guns though they have a rapid access to guns and other weapons, depending on the situation. Authorities in a statement said police were unarmed during their first encounter and armed during later encounters with Andersen Braathen.
Authorities said one of the wounded was an off-duty police officer struck inside the supermarket, and that all the wounded have been released from the hospital.
The alleged attacker was known to police before the deadly attack. Norwegian public broadcaster NRK reported that PST security officials received information about Andersen Braathen in 2015 and agents interviewed him in 2017 to determine if he posed a threat. The following year, the agency contacted Norwegian health authorities about him and concluded that he suffered from a serious mental illness, NRK said.
The VG newspaper also reported the agency thought Andersen Braathen might carry out a “low-scale attack with simple means in Norway.” PST did not comment on that report.
Police said Saturday that their suspicion that the suspect's apparent mental illness caused the attack had strengthened further, while Andersen Braathen's statement of being a convert to Islam had become a less important investigation line.
“He himself has said that he has converted to Islam. It's a hypothesis, but is also a hypothesis that he hasn't done so. The investigation so far shows that he hasn't done this (converting) seriously," police inspector Per Thomas Omholt told a news conference Saturday.
Omholt said Friday that three weapons, including the bow and arrow, were used in the attack, but declined to identify the weapons further or reveal how the five victims were killed due to the ongoing investigation.
A spokesman for Norway's Muslim community told NRK that it was irresponsible for the police to publish the suspect's self-acclaimed conversion to Islam, as they did Thursday.
“It hurts, it's very painful," Waqar Dar told NRK. “There are a lot of young Muslims who write to me and say they have a nasty feeling. They love Norway but feel they are not loved back."
Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl, who assumed the post on Thursday along with the rest of Norway’s new center-left government, has so far not commented on the police handling of the attack.
“Now it is important that the police get a review and investigate the matter thoroughly,” she told the Swedish public broadcaster SVT.
Norwegian police on Saturday identified the four female victims as Andrea Meyer, 52; Hanne Englund, 56; Liv Berit Borge, 75; and Gun Marith Madsen, 78. The male victim was identified as Gunnar Erling Sauve, 75.
Several of them were part of Kongsberg’s thriving artists' community, Norwegian media reported. NRK described Englund as a much-respected potter and artist who ran a gallery and lived in Kongsberg. Madsen was a self-taught painter and Borge held board positions in local nonprofit art organizations.
Sauve had a long career as local judge and earlier worked for Norway's environment ministry. He was Borge's partner, NRK said. Meyer had moved to Norway from her native Germany several years ago.
Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette Marit will visit Kongsberg on Sunday and attend a memorial service for the victims at the town's main church.