Norwegian police have arrested 42-year-old suspect Zaniar Matapour in the June 25 shooting at the London Pub gay bar in Oslo, which resulted in two deaths and 21 injuries. Police say that Matapour has Islamic extremist ties and is undergoing a mental evaluation, though he has refused to undergo questioning, leaving police to investigate a possible motive.
U.S. and Norwegian government officials have denounced the “horrific” terrorist shooting. The shooting raised the country’s threat level from “moderate” to “extraordinary” and resulted in the cancellation of the city’s Saturday Pride parade, though thousands still showed up to march in a show of solidarity against violence.
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The shooting occurred near 1 a.m. at the crowded bar as festivities for the city’s Pride weekend were in full swing. The shooting killed two men in their 50s and 60s.
Police quickly arrested the suspect five minutes after receiving emergency calls. Passers-by chased him down the street and detained him until officers arrived, Reuters reported.
Roger Berg — chief of Norway’s police intelligence service, politiets sikkerhetstjeneste (PST) — said that his agency first became aware of Matapour in 2015. Berg noted Matapour’s “long history of violence and threats” and “difficulties with his mental health.” Matapour’s family emigrated to Norway from the Kurdish part of Iran in the 1990s, PBS reported.
He has since been an active member in an Islamic extremist network with ties to Arfan Bhatti, a Norwegian Islamic extremist with strong anti-gay views, Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said.
Matapour refused the standard police practice of being questioned on videotape over worries that the police would edit his recording to use against him.
“My client has refused to be taken on audio and video, unless this was to be sent publicly in its entirety,” the suspect’s attorney, John Christian Elden, said. Elden has previously represented Bhatti, the aforementioned Islamic extremist.
Matapour’s previous prior criminal record includes a narcotics charge and a weapons charge for carrying a knife. Police say they seized a handgun and an automatic weapon from him after the Saturday shooting. The PST has called the attack “an act of Islamist terrorism.”
He now faces possible murder, attempted murder, and terrorism charges for reportedly targeting people at multiple locations; though it’s unclear whether the other targets were LGBTQ-identified. Police, however, have said it’s too early to declare whether anti-LGBTQ hatred motivated his alleged attack.
In a June 25 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre expressed heartbreak and horror over the shooting, saying, “We stand in solidarity with our close ally, Norway, and the community in Norway and all who have been devastated by this senseless act.” Jean-Pierre said the U.S. will provide any support investigators might need.
On the same day, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, “The horrific shooting in Norway this morning has been felt around the world. The United States strongly condemns this act of terror. We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims, the diverse and strong LGBTQI+ community of Oslo, our close NATO ally Norway, and all who have been devastated by this senseless act…. We remain committed to continuing to partner with Norway to advance a more equitable and just world for all, free from violence and discrimination.”
Oslo’s local LGBTQ community planned an anti-violence march in front of city hall on Monday, but the gradually-expanded event was canceled after police expressed worry about the nation’s elevated terror threat.
Despite the cancellation of the city’s Saturday Pride event, thousands of people spontaneously marched through the city on Saturday afternoon, chanting, “We’re here. We’re queer. We won’t disappear,” VOA reported. Other weekend Pride marches in Europe also expressed solidarity with the Norwegian city
The Oslo cathedral draped itself in a rainbow flag on Sunday while holding a memorial ceremony for the shooting victims. The memorial was attended by Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.
“The shooting… put an end to the Pride march,” Store said at the memorial service. “But it has not put an end to the fight to end discrimination, prejudice and hate.”
Islamic extremism is similar to Christian extremism in its anti-LGBTQ fervor, but Muslim culture isn’t inherently anti-gay: The Quran says nothing about homosexuality (unlike the Bible); Islamic history is filled with texts openly depicting homosexuality as a beautiful, matter-of-fact thing; and more American Muslims support same-sex marriage than do Christian Evangelicals, Protestants, and Mormons, according to a Pew Research Study.