Oslo (AFP) – A gunman armed with multiple weapons opened fire in a mosque near the Norwegian capital Oslo on Saturday, injuring one person before being overpowered by an elderly worshipper, police and witnesses said.
The head of the mosque described the assailant, who was later arrested, as a young white man dressed in black and said he was wearing a helmet and bullet proof vest.
Police were alerted to the shooting at the al-Noor Islamic centre in the Oslo suburb of Baerum shortly after 4 pm (1400 GMT).
“There has been a shooting episode inside the mosque,” Oslo police said on Twitter.
Police first reported that the victim had been shot, but later said one person had sustained “minor injuries” and that it was unclear if they were gunshot wounds.
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.
Police said there was no indication that people other than the “young man” arrested were involved in Saturday’s incident.
“It is a Norwegian young man, with a Norwegian background. He lives in the vicinity,” Oslo police officer Rune Skjold told a press conference on Saturday evening.
Skjold added that the suspect had been known to police before the incident but could not be described as someone with a “ criminal background”.
The police bomb squad was later spotted outside an address linked to the suspect, according to media reports.
– ‘Blood on the carpets’ –
“One of our members has been shot by a white man with a helmet and uniform,” Irfan Mushtaq, head of the mosque, told local media.
The al-Noor Islamic centre in Norway shares the same name as one of the mosques in the New Zealand attacks in March
Mushtaq said that the man had carried multiple weapons, but that he had been subdued by a member of the mosque.
Mushtaq said he had arrived at the scene shortly after being alerted about the gunman, and had gone to the back of the building while waiting for police to arrive.
“Then I see that there are cartridges scattered and blood on the carpets, and I see one of our members is sitting on the perpetrator, covered in blood,” Mushtaq told Norwegian newspaper VG.
He said the man who apparently overpowered the shooter was 75 years old and had been reading the Koran after a prayer session.
According to Mushtaq, the mosque had not received any threats ahead of the shooting.
The attack took place on the eve of the Muslim celebration of Eid Al-Adha, marking the end of the Muslim pilgrimage Hajj, and police said they were looking into whether any steps needed to be taken to “improve security”.
– New Zealand connection? –
There has been 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 in shootings 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.
Police said they have a arrested a young man following the shooting
Budstikka said it had contacted the mosque in March after the Christchurch massacre and that officials there had said security would be tightened.
The suspect in the Christchurch killings wrote a hate-filled manifesto in which he said he was influenced by far-right ideologues including the Norwegian mass murderer Breivik.
Breivik, who said he was motivated by his hatred of multiculturalism, 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.
Norwegian police said they were aware that the man they had in custody had been active online prior to the shooting.
Broadcaster TV2 reported they had learned the identity of the man and located a post to an online forum from someone using the same name, posted only hours before the attack.
The post seemingly praising the New Zealand attacker and ended with the words “Valhall awaits”.