Kongsberg attack: Norwegian town left asking questions after murders

By Mark Lowen
BBC News Kongsberg, Norway

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Residents in Kongsberg feel the peace of their safe town has been shattered

"It's been ruined - the peace and innocence I felt before Wednesday. It's been corrupted by this evil force," said Oda Hjelle as she gazed at the candles and roses laid out in her once sleepy hometown 50 miles from Oslo.

"Now any big sound makes me feel jumpy," said the 15-year-old, who was with her friends at a makeshift memorial in the centre of Kongsberg.

They have been traumatised after resident Espen Andersen Brathen went on a killing spree on Wednesday with a bow and arrow and reportedly another weapon.

Five people were killed and three others injured, including an off-duty police officer.

The suspect, a Danish Muslim convert, has reportedly confessed to the crime, the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people a decade ago.

"I heard the helicopters circling and my heart sank," said Oda Hjelle. "Many young people like to be outside and I was worried about friends and classmates - I couldn't think straight. Nobody could have expected this here of all places."

As this close-knit community of 25,000 people comes to terms with its heartbreak, it is also asking questions about how the attack unfolded - and why the suspect was not stopped earlier, given that he had previously been flagged as a security risk over fears of his radicalisation.

Although he was confronted by police within minutes of shooting arrows at Kongsberg's Co-op supermarket just after 18:00 on Wednesday, he's believed to have unleased more volleys in their direction, escaping while the police reportedly sought greater protection.

Norwegian police are not routinely armed, but they did get to the scene fast only to let him get away.

It then took 34 minutes for him to be caught.

That was the deadly period in which he killed four women and a man aged 50-70.

"My family are angry and disappointed that the police couldn't do anything quicker," said Oda Hjelle.

She believes there was a systemic failure as Norwegian intelligence knew he was a danger.

"They should have expected something like this. We thought we were better prepared. We were told we were better prepared since Breivik. That this was allowed to happen will have an impact on how safe we feel."

Image caption,
Beate Itland says Kongsberg has always been a safe town, until now

A picture is emerging of the man accused of bringing terror to Kongsberg.

Espen Andersen Brathen is reported to have a previous conviction for burglary and drug possession and had been issued with a restraining order after threatening to kill a relative.

He posted a Facebook video in 2017 with the words "I come with a warning… bear witness that I am a Muslim."

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Espen Andersen Brathen is undergoing a psychiatric examination

And he's said to have frequented the town's mosque, whose imam said the suspect told him he had had "a revelation" but that he did not appear dangerous.

Police say he was reported to them over possible radicalisation last year and say his killing rampage "appears to have been an act of terror".

He is now undergoing a psychiatric assessment and prosecutors say he has been handed over to health services.

The evaluation could take several weeks and, if he is remanded in custody, he would be held in medical care rather than prison.

Media caption,
Norway attack witness: "I heard a distinct thunk sound"

As autumnal leaves blew in a cold wind beside the river running through Kongsberg, Beate Itland was comforting her young daughter and son beside the candlelit vigil.

"I have to be tough so as not to scare my kids", she said. "I'd never been scared to walk outside but now it feels a bit unsafe. I hope this won't last."

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