Norway attacker held in medical custody amid mental health doubts

Man who confessed to killing five people in a bow-and-arrow attack was ‘in and out of the health system for some time’, say officials.

People lay down flowers and light candles to honour the dead on Friday after a man killed five people on Wednesday night, in Kongsberg, Norway [Terje Bendiksby/NTB/via Reuters]

A Norway court has ordered the man who confessed to killing five people in a bow-and-arrow attack to be held in detention in a medical facility, as questions mounted about his mental health.

Espen Andersen Brathen, a Danish citizen who converted to Islam and was known to police, will be held for an initial period of four weeks, the first two in total isolation, judge Ann Mikalsen ruled on Friday.

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A full psychiatric evaluation – which can take several months, according to the prosecutor – is necessary to determine whether Brathen can be held legally responsible for his actions.

“This indicates that things are not exactly as they should be,” his lawyer, Fredrik Neumann said referring to his client’s mental health.

“A complete judicial assessment will clarify that,” he told Norwegian daily VG.

Brathen was not present in court on Friday, having not contested the detention request.

“There is no doubt that (it) appears as if it could be an act of terror, but it’s important that the investigation continues and that we establish the motive of the suspect,” the head of Norway’s intelligence service PST, Hans Sverre Sjovold, told a news conference on Thursday.

“This is a person who has been in and out of the health system for some time,” Sjovold said.

Known to police previously over fears he had been “radicalised”, Brathen has confessed to the killings in questioning, police said.

Four women and one man were killed and three people injured in Wednesday night’s attack. Police said a bow and arrow and other undisclosed weapons were used before he was arrested.

“He has told us why he did it but we can’t say anything publicly about his motives at this stage,” prosecutor Ann Iren Svane Mathiassen told AFP on Thursday.

The suspect was known to PST, which is in charge of Norway’s anti-terrorism efforts, but few details have emerged about why.

“There were fears linked to radicalisation previously,” police official Ole Bredrup Saeverud told reporters.

Those reports were before this year, and police said they had followed up at the time.

History of violence

Norwegian media reported that Brathen was subject to two prior court rulings, including a restraining order against him regarding his parents after threatening to kill his father, and a conviction for burglary and purchasing narcotics in 2012.

Local media also unearthed a video Brathen allegedly posted to social media in 2017, in which he issued a “warning” and declared his Muslim faith.

Speaking anonymously, one of Brathen’s neighbours described him as a big person with a crew cut and a serious demeanour, who was always seen “alone”.

“No smile, nothing in the face. He was just staring,” the neighbour told AFP.

Brathen is believed to have acted alone in the deadly attack, carried out in several locations in Kongsberg, where he lived.

Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who took office on Thursday following recent elections, was on Friday expected to visit the town of 25,000 people.

Flowers and candles were placed in front of the various crime scenes.

Svein Westad, a 75-year-old pensioner, wandered aimlessly on Hyttegata, a street where two of his neighbours and close friends were killed in their homes.

“I’m totally broken into pieces, I cannot say anything more than that. I will never get over this,” he told AFP.

“They should have caught him immediately,” he said, referring to criticism against the police for arresting Brathen 30 minutes after the first reports came in.

Norway rarely experiences such violence, but 10 years ago Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a far-right attack, the country’s worst massacre since World War II.

Source: AFP