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A Norwegian white nationalist tried to kill Muslims at a mosque

Police says he was inspired by the attacks in Christchurch and El Paso.

Flowers and a police cordon are pictured in front of the al-Noor Islamic Centre Mosque in Baerum near Oslo, Norway, on August 12, 2019.
Orn Borgeno/AFP/Getty Images

An attempted mass killing at a mosque outside Oslo, Norway, on Saturday was allegedly perpetrated by a young white man who holds extreme right-wing views — and was seemingly inspired by last week’s El Paso attack that targeted America’s Latinx community.

Oslo police on Sunday said they’re looking into the shooting at the al-Noor Islamic Center in Baerum as “an attempted act of terrorism.” No one was killed because only three people were there when the assailant came in — though dozens were there just 10 minutes earlier — and the suspected attacker was overpowered by two men at the site even as shots were fired at them. One of the men who brought the shooter down is 65 years old and sustained the attempt’s lone injury.

“There is no doubt that the swift and firm response from the persons inside the mosque stopped the aggressor and prevented further consequences,” Oslo Assistant Police Chief Rune Skjold told reporters. The two men’s act was particularly brave as the suspect reportedly wore body armor and came heavily armed, though it’s currently unclear what kind of weaponry he carried.

The timing of the attack was painful for many of Norway’s 200,000 Muslims, as Sunday is the start of Eid al-Adha, a major Islamic holiday that marks the height of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Officials have placed extra security at mosques throughout Oslo to ensure the safety of those wanting to pray in their house of worship. Non-Muslims have also stood guard outside the city’s mosques to offer protection.

Norway’s leaders have offered words of condolence. “This is not supposed to happen in Norway,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a Sunday statement. “Norway should be safe. All places of worship shall be safe.” She also vowed to make combating hate a speech a priority for her government, though that’s awkward for her since her ruling coalition includes the far-right, anti-immigrant, and anti-Islam Progress Party.

Authorities also are investigating the killing of a 17-year-old girl, the assailant’s stepsister, who was found dead inside the shooter’s home.

The gunman, whose name hasn’t been officially released but is being reported in Norwegian media, has therefore been charged with the murder of the girl and the attempted murder of many at the mosque. Prosecutors have requested that the suspect be imprisoned “with full isolation” for the next four weeks. He appeared in court on Monday with apparent wounds on his face.

The shooter was inspired by right-wing, anti-immigrant views and attacks

The suspect, who is in his early 20s, hasn’t cooperated much with Oslo police, but an initial investigation found that he “expressed hostile attitudes against immigrants” and other white nationalist views. In fact, he showed clear admiration for Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian leader who cooperated with the Nazis during World War II.

Friends and other acquaintances who spoke with Norwegian media said the attacker had increasingly made his hostility to immigrants and others clear, including expressing that he didn’t believe women should work outside the home.

He also posted messages to the website Endchan showing that he considered past mass murderers of immigrants to be saint-like.

“It’s my time, I was chosen by Saint Tarrant after all,” he wrote in one message, referencing the last name of the attacker who killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March. “We can’t let this go on, you gotta bump the race war threat [in real life].” (That message has since been taken down.)

In other posts elsewhere on the internet, the Norwegian praised the New Zealand shooter, the El Paso assailant, and an attacker who killed a woman in a California synagogue in April while expressing anti-Semitic views.

While there’s no evidence of any direct cooperation among these four assailants, it appears they may be feeding off each other.

The attackers share a sense of grievance that white people are being replaced in their countries due to an invasion of immigrants. Accelerating the number and intensity of terrorist acts against them might help spur the race war they believe is coming and want to incite, Peter Neumann, a terrorism expert at King’s College in London, told me.

“We are now no longer talking about one-off events, but a loosely coordinated chain of far-right attacks across the world, where members of these networks inspire — and challenge — each other to beat each others’ body counts,” he continued. “The aim is to carry out attacks, claim responsibility, explain your action, and inspire others to follow.”

In fact, the Norwegian mosque shooter concluded his Endchan message with a call to action: “if you’re reading this you have been elected by me,” likely a statement attempting to spur other would-be terrorists to carry out violent acts.

Which means that Sunday’s attack could be not just another in an increasing number of such incidents, but also a catalyst for future violence.