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A man who opened fire in a Norwegian mosque, in an attack apparently inspired by the Christchurch massacre, appeared in court Monday charged with an attempted act of terror.
The suspect, alleged white supremacist 21-year old Philip Manshaus, was also charged with murder after the body of his 17-year-old stepsister was discovered following his arrest Saturday.
Manshaus was arrested after allegedly opening fire inside the Al-Noor Islamic Centre in Baerum, on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital Oslo, where worshipers were preparing to mark Eid-al-Adha. Multiple shots were fired before a 65-year-old worshiper, Mohammad Rafiq, managed to overpower the gunman, who was wearing a helmet and body armor. Rafiq suffered minor injuries in his struggle with the gunman, and nobody in the mosque was shot.
The suspect had two black eyes and visible wounds on his face and neck when he appeared in court for an arraignment Monday. He smiled at photographers before the judge began proceedings in a closed hearing.
When police searched Manshaus’s family home following his arrest Saturday, they discovered the body of his stepsister. The young woman, who has not been named, was of Chinese descent, and had been adopted by Manshaus’ father’s partner at a young age, Norwegian media reported.
Rune Skjold, the police chief in charge of the operation, said that Manshaus was believed to hold far-right, anti-immigrant views, and had expressed sympathy for Vidkun Quisling, the leader of Norway's collaborationist government during the Nazi occupation. Police had been in contact with the suspect prior to the shooting, because they were concerned by extremist opinions he posted online, Skjold said.
Shortly before Saturday’s attack, someone identifying himself as Philip Manshaus, posted a message on the EndChan forum, saying “it’s my time,” and calling on others to follow in his footsteps.
“Well cobbers [friends] it’s my time, I was elected by saint [Brenton] Tarrant after all,” it said, referring to the man charged with the murder of 51 Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March.
“We can’t let this go on, you gotta bump the race war thread [in real life] … and if you’re reading this you have been elected by me.”
The post included a link to a Facebook live stream, which didn’t work, and a meme showing three men depicted as heroes of violent white supremacy: Tarrant; Patrick Crusius, charged with the murder of 22 people in El Paso earlier this month; and John T. Earnest, charged with murder and attempted murder for a shooting in a synagogue in Poway, California in April. Both Crusius and Earnest had reportedly cited the Christchurch terror attack as inspiration for their actions.
All three men posted their “manifestos” on 8chan, an unmoderated messageboard notorious for its violent white supremacist content. Since 8chan was taken offline in the wake of the El Paso shooting, users have migrated to other message boards, including EndChan.
EndChan confirmed Monday that a man "claiming to be the Oslo shooter" had posted material on the forum, and that the thread has since been deleted by moderators. It said the site had been grappling with “a large influx of 8ch refugees” using its service since 8chan was shut down.
Prosecutors have requested that Manshaus be held on suspicion of murder and a breach of anti-terrorism law, and that he spend those weeks in full isolation with no access to outside communication, visitors or any news media. His lawyer said Monday that he was refusing to give any statements to police.
Security has been stepped up at mosques around the country, and on Sunday Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg assured Norway's Muslims that they had the government’s support.
“Muslims must be assured that they feel safe in our country, and have support from the Norwegian government and, as I see it, from the Norwegian people,” she said as she visited an Oslo mosque Sunday, where non-Muslims had gathered outside in solidarity. “What happened yesterday shall not happen [again] in Norway.”
But Islamic Council Norway, a national Muslim organization, said the government had failed to take Islamophobia seriously.
“The terror attack in Baerum is the result of a long-lasting hate of Muslims that has been allowed to spread in Norway, without Norwegian authorities having taken this development seriously,” the group said in a statement. There are about 200,000 Muslims in Norway, representing about 4 percent of the total population.
Norway is no stranger to far-right violence. In 2011, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik carried out a bomb attack in Oslo and a mass shooting on the island of Utoya, killing 77 people and wounding more than 300. In his final screed before carrying out the massacre, the Christchurch gunman said he had drawn particular inspiration from Breivik’s attack, and claimed to have been in brief contact with him.
Cover: Flowers are left by a police cordon outside Al-Noor Islamic Centre Mosque in Baerum, Norway, Monday Aug. 12, 2019, after an attack at the mosque on Saturday. The defense lawyer for a suspected gunman accused of an attempted terrorist attack on an Oslo mosque and to having killed his teenage stepsister says her client "will use his right not to explain himself for now" in a detention hearing later Monday. (Orn E. Borgen, NTB scanpix via AP)