Town Rattled by Bow-and-Arrow Killings Ponders Terrorism and Mental Illness


KONGSBERG, Norway — Just a few years in the past, a nervous Danish man walked right into a mosque on this placid Scandinavian city, in search of assist in delivering a message to the world that he claimed to have obtained “from above.”

The mosque’s spokesman despatched him away. But he recalled the odd episode final week after the person, Espen Andersen Brathen, confessed to killing 5 folks on Wednesday with weapons together with a bow and arrow, leaving many in Kongsberg questioning how his life had gone so terribly off track.

“I told him we are not a news agency,” Oussama Tlili, who heads the one mosque in Kongsberg, mentioned of that encounter about 5 years in the past. “You could see the tension in his face and his body, it made me uncomfortable, and I remember thinking, ‘This man is a risk.’”

The police mentioned initially that they believed Mr. Brathen, 37, could have been motivated by Islamic extremism and that he had dedicated acts of terrorism. The authorities pointed to the randomness of the targets and Mr. Brathen’s conversion to Islam.

But proof uncovered since appears to undermine that conclusion. Mr. Tlili says that his first impression of Mr. Brathen, on the time a current convert to Islam, urged much less a person motivated by spiritual fervor than one with deep private troubles.

“While it still remains to be seen if this is about terror or psychiatry,” mentioned Arne Christian Haugstoyl, the top of Norway’s counterterrorism unit on the Police Security Service, “all along the way we have seen his psychological problems, and that has been our main worry, not his ideology.”

In this ordinarily quiet city, remnants of the crime scene wove an eerie seam by means of the in any other case ordered streets of clapboard homes: a crack within the glass storefront of the Coop grocery store, the place Mr. Brathen started his assault; pink police tape that traced his path by means of the city; and bouquets of flowers piled in entrance of doorways the place he entered and killed.

Norwegians aren’t strangers to terrorism. In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist who later modified his identify to Fjotolf Hansen, killed 77 folks, a lot of them youngsters, when he went on a taking pictures rampage on an island close to Oslo.

But within the bow-and-arrow killings, early headlines a couple of terrorist assault gave approach to a unique story: The police introduced Friday in a information convention that Mr. Brathen had been transferred to a medical facility for a psychiatric analysis. They additionally mentioned interrogations of Mr. Brathen had been suspended till his psychological state was decided.

“He is very tired, and he is not well, mentally,” mentioned Per Thomas Omholt, a police inspector in Kongsberg.

Both the native police and Kongsberg’s district psychiatric care middle are being investigated for potential lapses of their dealings with Mr. Brathen throughout his obvious emotional collapse.

Sunday was a day of remembrance for this small city, the place many have been shaken by the murders.

Some laid flowers or lit candles at a makeshift memorial within the middle of city. Paper hearts with messages studded the bridge main throughout the river to the city’s solely church, the place an extended line of individuals waited to attend a memorial service for the victims.

“My hometown, it is shaking,” mentioned Borghild Glosimot, 52, who was born and raised right here. “It’s a shame that this is what brings it into the limelight.”

Members of the Norwegian royal household attended the service, as did members of the native mosque.

Kari Elizabeth Hoff, 82, a Kongsberg resident, was consuming dinner on Wednesday when she heard an unnerving scream. Soon after, a good friend from the ground beneath began banging on Ms. Hoff’s door, saying her neighbors had been killed.

“I knew then that we were suddenly in the middle of a war here,” Ms. Hoff mentioned. “That could have been me, in my home, or in that shop.”

The day after the assault, shocked and unsure, Ms. Hoff walked to the church. “I am not a religious person,” she mentioned, preventing again tears. “but I needed to just sit in a corner somewhere and say, ‘Thank you for my life.’”

Mr. Brathen, the son of a Norwegian father and Danish mom, has lived in Kongsberg most of his life and attended junior highschool right here. Interviews with associates and acquaintances paint an image of a soft-spoken, amicable younger man who took a sudden disturbing flip.

“He was incredibly kind, not attention-seeking,” mentioned a 30-year-old lady who met him round 2009 and used to see him usually at events. “He was never talking about politics or religion,” she mentioned. He was extra focused on skateboarding, hip-hop and smoking hash, she mentioned. The lady spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of her household is near one of many victims and feared that discussing Mr. Brathen would disrupt their lives.

But in recent times, when she would run into him he at all times regarded unsettled, she mentioned: His eyes have been evasive, and his sentences would path off. The final she noticed him was the Saturday earlier than the assault, as she walked house from a grocery retailer. He was in entrance of her when he immediately began appearing paranoid, checking franticly over his shoulder.

“It was so obvious to anyone who saw him on the street, even those who didn’t know, that he needed help,” she mentioned.

Mr. Brathen first appeared in police reviews in 2012 for petty crimes like drug possession and for breaking and getting into into an area mining museum.

Not lengthy after, Mr. Brathen transformed to Islam and quickly discovered his approach to the mosque at Kongsberg’s Islamic Cultural Center, the place he requested Mr. Tlili for assist in delivering his divine messages.

“This guy, he didn’t know anything about Islam,” mentioned Mr. Tlili, including that he didn’t even know find out how to wash his palms correctly earlier than afternoon prayer.

In his 14 years of main the mosque, Mr. Tlili mentioned he had helped a number of native Norwegians convert. But he was suspicious of Mr. Brathen’s professed enthusiasm for Islam.

“He was not at all interested in speaking about religion,” he mentioned. Mr. Tlili suspected that, even then, Mr. Brathen could have been sick. “Looking back, I believe it was a cry for help,” he mentioned.

Over the following few weeks, Mr. Tlili mentioned, Mr. Brathen returned two extra occasions to request assist delivering his “message.” And then he stopped. The subsequent time Mr. Tlili noticed him was final week, on nationwide tv.

Around the identical time Mr. Brathen entered the mosque in 2015, Norway’s Police Security Service realized that he had transformed to Islam and that he appeared to pose a risk, in keeping with a spokesman for the safety service, Martin Berntsen.

In 2017, federal brokers grew to become alarmed after Mr. Brathen posted a video on YouTube during which he mentioned he was a “messenger.” The subsequent yr they warned the district psychiatric middle that Mr. Brathen’s psychological state “lowered his threshold for violence,” Mr. Berntsen mentioned.

According to native officers, Mr. Brathen underwent psychiatric examinations in 2010 and 2018.

The Kongsberg district psychiatric middle, the place Mr. Brathen was handled no less than as soon as, mentioned in an announcement that it was working to “turn every stone to get to the bottom of what has happened, what our role has been and whether there is anything we could have done better.”

Last yr, a decide imposed a six-month restraining order on Mr. Brathen at his mother and father’ request after he refused to go away their home, threatened to kill his father and left a revolver on their couch.

Silje Limstrand, 22, and Gudoon Hersi, 21, have been roommates who lived throughout the road from Mr. Brathen till two weeks in the past. They described him as a brooding, unstable presence who usually saved to himself and whose conduct grew extra disturbing over time.

“One day he would be making creepy comments about my hair or my dress and the next he would walk right by me with completely empty eyes,” mentioned Ms. Limstrand, a kindergarten trainer.

Mr. Brathen spewed racist remarks at Ms. Hersi, who’s Black. And, she recalled, “he had strange habits, like opening all the mailboxes on the road, or walking to and from the Coop three to four times in an hour.”

Ms. Hersi mentioned that she had tried to alert her neighbors, however that her considerations went unheeded. Then she heard about final week’s assault.

“I knew immediately that it was him,” she mentioned.