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Oslo shootings won’t stop fight against hate, says Norway’s prime minister

The Guardian logo The Guardian 26/06/2022 Jon Henley, Europe correspondent
Photograph: NTB/Reuters © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: NTB/Reuters

Fatal shootings at a gay bar in Oslo would not halt the fight against “discrimination, prejudice and hate”, Norway’s prime minister has said, as the country paid tribute to the victims of the attack in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The altar and aisles of the Norwegian capital’s cathedral were draped with rainbow flags for a special memorial service on Sunday attended by mourners, government ministers, church leaders and Crown Princess Mette-Marit.

Jonas Gahr Støre, dressed in black, said in an address at the memorial that thousands of people had spontaneously paraded through the streets of Oslo with rainbow flags and laid flowers at the scene despite the cancellation of the city’s planned Pride events.

“During the day, the city was full of people who wanted to speak out, about sorrow and anger, but also about support and solidarity and the will to continue on fighting, for the right of every individual to live a free life, a safe life,” Støre said.

Norway's Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, leave after the memorial service in Oslo Cathedral. Photograph: Javad Parsa/AP © Provided by The Guardian Norway's Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, leave after the memorial service in Oslo Cathedral. Photograph: Javad Parsa/AP

“These misdeeds remind us of this. This fight is not over. It is not safe from dangers. But we are going to win it, together. The shooting put an end to the Pride march, but it has not put an end to the fight to end discrimination, prejudice and hate.”

The head of the Norwegian Protestant church, Olav Fykse Tveit, said that while it had long opposed equal rights for same-sex couples, it had learned. “Diversity is a gift, a richness, and many gay people have a capacity for love that we do not,” he said. “Bullets cannot kill love.”

Two men in their 50s and 60s died in the shootings, which occurred soon after 1am on Saturday in and outside the London Pub, a bar in Oslo’s nightlife district popular with the LGBTQ+ community, while 21 others were wounded, including 10 seriously.

Police on Sunday embarked on a second attempt to question the suspect, a 42-year-old Norwegian-Iranian named by the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK and multiple other local media outlets as Zaniar Matapour.

Authorities have described the suspect as a radicalised Islamist with a record of violence and threats and a history of mental illness. Norway’s PST security service said the shootings were “an act of extreme Islamist terror”.

It said the suspect, who is accused of murder, attempted murder and terrorism, had been known to the agency since 2015 as a member of an Islamist network in Norway. He will undergo extensive psychiatric evaluation over the coming days, police said.

Matapour’s lawyer, John Christian Elden, said an attempt on Saturday to question his client had ended soon after it began when the suspect refused to have the interview recorded “because he thought the police would manipulate it”.

On Saturday, the PST raised the country’s threat level from moderate to “extraordinary”, with a significantly increased police presence in Oslo. Police have said it is unclear whether the suspect’s motive was hatred towards sexual minorities.

NRK reported late on Saturday that Matapour had been in contact with a known Islamic extremist living in Norway, Arfan Bhatti, who earlier this month posted on social media a photo of a burning rainbow flag and a call for gay people to be killed.

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