Mosque attack prevented by former military officer
BERLIN — A 65-yearold former Pakistani military officer is being credited with thwarting an attack at a mosque in Norway, after he tackled a heavily armed gunman who allegedly stormed into the house of worship with the intention of carrying out a mass shooting motivated by hatred of Muslims.
Mohammad Rafiq said he threw the suspect to the ground after the gunman entered the al-Noor Islamic Center in Baerum near the Norwegian capital of Oslo on Saturday, before the two other men inside the mosque rushed to help him pin down the man until police arrived.
Rafiq’s quick action helped avert an attack that brought back painful memories of the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand earlier this year, when a gunman attacked two mosques and killed 51 people during Friday prayers.
“There is no doubt that the swift and firm response from the persons inside the mosque stopped the aggressor,” acting Police Station Chief Rune Skjold said in a statement.
“These persons showed great courage.”
The attempted attack on al-Noor Islamic Center happened a day before Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al
Adha, one of the most important holidays on the Islamic calendar marking the end of the hajj pilgrimage.
Rafiq and the two others had been at the al-Noor mosque preparing for the festivities.
Authorities are now treating the attack as a suspected act of terrorism, and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has condemned Saturday’s incident as a “direct attack on Norwegian Muslims.”
“It was an attack on religious freedom,” she wrote on Facebook.
The suspect, Philip Manshaus, 21, appeared in court looking bruised and scratched, but smiling. He did not speak, and his defense lawyer Unni Fries said that her client “will use his right not to explain himself for now.”
He has been charged with homicide and terrorist acts and was ordered jailed in pretrial detention for four weeks after his court hearing Monday. Following the attempted attack on t he Mosque, investigators then raided Manshaus’ nearby house and found the body of his 17year-old stepsister. He is also suspected in her killing, police said, but did not provide additional details.
The head of Norway’s domestic security agency said Monday officials had received a “vague” tip a year ago about the suspect, but it was not sufficient to act because officials had no information about any “concrete plans” of attack.
Hans Sverre Sjoevold, head of Norway’s PST agency, told a news conference that the agency and the police receive many tips from worried people every day and the information “didn’t go in the direction of an imminent terror planning.”
Associated Press contributed.