Kongsberg bow-and-arrow attack – a summary

(OSLO, Thursday 14 Oct) – Horrifying, disturbing, bizarre, tragic. That’s the best adjectives I can think of to describe last night’s events in Kongsberg. For a few, very confusing and terrible hours, the world’s eyes were fixed on a small town in a small country, where a truly breathtaking crime was taking place.

A brief bit of background: Kongsberg occupies an important place in Norwegian history, founded as a mining town in the 1600s. It produced the silver that financed endless wars between Denmark-Norway and Sweden for the next couple centuries, and the mines were not fully closed until 1958.

Today it has the look and feel of a typical Norwegian town, located around 90 minutes from Oslo, and with a population of around 20 000. Its largest employer is Kongsberg Group, which produces weapons and military equipment, but also maritime equipment.

Now, what happened on Wednesday night?

At a little after 6 PM, a man began attacking people with a bow and arrow. Other weapons were also involved, police have not stated what they were. A bow and arrow may sound like a child’s toy, but hunting versions that are commonly found at sporting goods stores have the potential to murder people. The attacks took place in several locations in downtown Kongsberg, including a grocery store.

It is believed that the attacks were aimed at random victims. Whatever the case may be, five people were killed before he was finally apprehended by police. Two people were also wounded.

There were four women and one man among those killed, and they were aged between 50 and 70. They have not been formally identified as of yet, and so their names have not been released, though the next of kin have been informed.

Police confronted the man sometime between the first report of what happened at 6:13 PM and his arrest at 6:47 PM. He escaped this first confrontation, and it is believed that the murders took place in the minutes after.

Downtown Kongsberg is divided in two by the river Numedalslågen, and the entire west bank was on police lockdown for several hours. Police did not believe there were other perpetrators of the attacks, but felt a need to operate undisturbed to gather evidence and make sure the situation was under control. Large numbers of police and ambulance staff were dispatched from nearby regions to assist the local emergency services in Kongsberg.

The perpetrator is a man named Espen Andersen Bråthen. What we know is:

  • He is a 37 year old male
  • He is a Danish citizen, but has resided in Norway for his entire life (because of long-standing freedom of movement between the Nordic countries, this is not uncommon)
  • Bråthen had previously converted to Islam, and police and security services had received reports from people who feared the man was undergoing radicalization.
  • He has an extensive criminal record: criminal threats, theft, drug offenses, and he was given a six month restraining order in 2020 due to threats on his parents’ life.

The following has been reported from serious Norwegian news outlets, but has not been OFFICIALLY confirmed:

  • The police had previously sent several patrols to his house due to said reports, and threatening behavior on his property.
  • There appears to have been a history of serious mental illness here as well. This should not be understated.

What happens now?

Bråthen has been interrogated by police, and been assigned a defense lawyer. He has acknowledged the events as they happened, and has acknowledged that he committed them. He has not yet acknowledged criminal guilt for these events.

On Friday, most likely Friday morning, there will be a court hearing where the police will request that he be kept in custody, most likely for four weeks. Note that this process can be repeated indefinitely every four weeks as long as there is a danger of evidence being destroyed or repeat offenses.

The Police Security Service (PST) stated this afternoon that the events in Kongsberg appear to have been a terrorist attack.

Today is also the day where Norway’s government changes hands. Following the elections in September, center-right Prime Minister Erna Solberg is leaving office and handing over her post to the center-left Jonas Gahr Støre. This occasion has, obviously, been somewhat more somber and subdued than government handovers tend to be in Norway, due to the events of Wednesday night.

Oh, and in a frankly bizarre coincidence, a Danish movie named “Wild Men” (Vildmænd) was due to be released in a few weeks. The plot involves a Danish man with a mid-life crisis who decides to live as a hunter-gatherer in the Norwegian mountains, shooting animals with a bow and arrow.

The production company has, understandably, decided to postpone the film’s release.

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