HELSINKI – Many Norwegians recall it all too well: politicians, residents and Norway's royal family together mourning an act of home-grown mass violence that profoundly shook a Scandinavian nation where such tragedies are rare.
A bow-and-arrow attack that killed five people and wounded three in a quiet town Wednesday brought immediate comparisons with a terror attack a decade and three months earlier that still ranks as Norway's worst peacetime act of slaughter.
It was only in July that church bells rang across the country as people gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of the day right-wing extremist Anders Breivik killed eight people by bombing government buildings in the capital, Oslo, and another 69 by opening fire at a youth camp on the island of Utoya.
On Thursday, flags flying at half-staff on all public buildings and candles flickering on the steps of Kongsberg Church recalled Breivik's rampage and bore quiet witness to the still unfathomable events that unfolded over 30 minutes the night before.
“What no one thought could happen has happened. A horrific violent incident has hit our town,” the Kongsberg's leaders said on the municipal website.
A 37-year-old Danish man who lived in the town was arrested about half an hour after police received first word of a man armed with a bow and arrow shooting at people in a supermarket and other locations in Kongsberg's old town.
As investigators worked to piece together evidence, Norway's national domestic security agency said the case was being treated as an act of terrorism. Police identified the attacker as Espen Andersen Braathen and described him as a convert to Islam who previously had been on their watch list for potential radical views.
The regional prosecutor leading the investigation said Andersen Braathen was armed with other weapons besides the bow and arrow. Police have not revealed what types of weapons or if they were used in the killings of four women and one man, all between the ages of 50 and 70.
King Harald V said all of Norway sympathized “in grief and despair” with the relatives of the victims and the three people who were injured in the attack.
“Norway is a small country,” the 84-year-old figurehead monarch said. “When Kongsberg is now...hit hard, the rest of the nation stands with you. It is our hope that security will be restored so that fear does not become entrenched.”
Kongsberg is located in a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains some 66 kilometers (41 miles) southwest of Oslo. Established in 1624 as a mining community after the discovery of silver in the area, it now has about 26,000 residents and an economy that depends on the defense industry and cluster of technology companies.
“The witnesses are shocked,” Kongsberg Church parish priest Reidar Aasboe said as residents lit candles on the steps. “It is hard to take in. I don’t think anyone expects to have these kinds of experiences. But nobody could imagine this could happen here in our little town.”
The attack took place on the eve of Norway’s new center-left government taking office. Prime Minister Erna Solberg, the head of government since 2013, dealt with the tragedy on her last full day in office.
Her successor as prime minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, called the violence “horrible” and “shocking” and pledged the new Cabinet’s full attention in the wake of the Kongsberg attack.
Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, tweeted his condolences saying that “I’m shocked and saddened by the tragic news coming from Norway.”
While mass attacks are rare in low-crime Norway, a Norwegian man equipped with a hunting rifle and a shotgun attempted to storm into a Oslo mosque in 2019. He fired shots before a man inside the mosque overpowered him.
Paal Nordseth in Kongsberg, Norway and Mark Lewis in London contributed to this report.