Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
Espen Andersen Brathen, the perpetrator of the Kongsberg attack, in a video from 2017. (AFP)
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Updated 16 October 2021

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
  • Espen Andersen Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived
  • While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person

KONGSBERG, Norway: A bow-and-arrow attack in Norway that left five people dead this week appears to have been motivated by mental illness, authorities indicated Friday, as the perpetrator was ordered to be kept in a medical facility.
Espen Andersen Brathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen who converted to Islam and is believed to have been radicalized, has confessed to the Wednesday killings in police questioning.
He was in custody in a medical facility on Friday pending a psychiatric evaluation.
“The strongest hypothesis after the first days of the investigation is that illness is in the background,” police inspector Per Thomas Omholt told reporters on Friday.
Police were however keeping other possibilities open, and have investigated a range of motives including “anger, revenge, impulse, extremism, illness and provocation,” Omholt said.
The psychiatric evaluation, which could take several months, 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 the Norwegian newspaper VG.
Omholt said Friday that Brathen had admitted to the acts but did not admit guilt.
While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person.
“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, said Thursday.
“This is a person who has been in and out of the health system for some time.”
Four women and one man were killed and three people injured in the attack in the town of Kongsberg, and police said a bow and arrows and two other undisclosed weapons were used before he was arrested.
Brathan was known to PST, which is in charge of Norway’s anti-terrorism efforts, but few details have emerged about why. According to public broadcaster NRK, the first warning was in 2015.
“There were fears linked to radicalization previously,” police official Ole Bredrup Saeverud told reporters.
Those reports dated to last year or earlier, and police said they had followed up at the time.
Norwegian media reported that in 2018 the PST had warned that he could commit “a small-scale attack.”
It also said 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 on social media in 2017, in which he issued a “warning” and declared his Muslim faith.
Speaking anonymously, one of Brathen’s neighbors 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 neighbor told AFP.
Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived.
Flowers and candles were placed in front of the various crime scenes in Kongsberg, a town of 25,000 people still reeling from the attack.
Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who took office on Thursday following elections last month, visited the town on Friday.
“We stand together when crisis strikes. For those of who have political responsibility, the safety of our citizens is the most important thing,” he said in a speech.
Svein Westad, a 75-year-old pensioner wandered aimlessly on Hyttegata street, where two of his neighbors 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 more than 30 minutes after the first reports came in.
Norway rarely experiences such violence, but 10 years ago Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in the country’s worst massacre since World War II.


Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks
Updated 4 sec ago

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks
DUBAI: Iran’s negotiating team, led by Ali Bagheri Kani, held bilateral and trilateral meetings in Vienna on Sunday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, ahead of a resumption in nuclear talks to revive a 2015 agreement between Iran and major powers.
“The Iranian team arrived on Saturday in Vienna and started meetings which continued on Sunday at an expert level with the heads of the Russian and Chinese negotiating teams, as well as the EU Coordinator Enrique Mora,” Iranian diplomat Mohammadreza Ghaebi told ISNA.

Australia detects first COVID Omicron infections

Australia detects first COVID Omicron infections
Updated 28 November 2021

Australia detects first COVID Omicron infections

Australia detects first COVID Omicron infections
  • Both passengers came from southern Africa and arrived in Australia
  • Another 12 passengers from southern Africa in the same flight did not test positive for COVID-19 but have been placed in quarantine

SYDNEY: Health officials in Australia said Sunday they had detected the COVID-19 Omicron strain for the first time after testing two passengers from southern Africa who flew into Sydney.
The eastern state of New South Wales’ health authority said it had conducted urgent genomic testing and confirmed the new strain was present in two passengers who landed in Sydney on Saturday.
Both passengers came from southern Africa and arrived in Australia on a Qatar Airways flight via Doha, NSW Health said in a statement.
They tested positive for Covid shortly after arriving, leading to an urgent analysis for possible infection by the heavily mutated Omicron strain.
“The two positive cases, who were asymptomatic, are in isolation in the special health accommodation. Both people are fully vaccinated,” NSW Health said.
Another 12 passengers from southern Africa in the same flight did not test positive for COVID-19 but have been placed in quarantine, it said.
About 260 passengers and crew on the plane have also been told to isolate, the health authority said.


Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border
Updated 28 November 2021

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border
  • No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Militants targeted a Pakistani military post in the northwestern tribal belt near the Afghan border, killing two soldiers in a firefight, the army said in a statement.
The Pakistani army’s media wing said late Saturday that militants attacked a post in the Datta Khel area of the district of North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The area is a former militant stronghold.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
During an intense exchange of gunfire two soldiers were killed, the military said, adding that a search of the area was being carried out to find the militants. It gave no indication of the identity of the attackers.
North Waziristan for years served as a safe haven for militants until the military carried out massive operations to try to clear the area. That forced the militants either to escape across the border into Afghanistan or hide in other mountainous areas near the border. Still, militants often strike against security forces.
Pakistan is holding talks with Islamic militants known as the Pakistani Taliban with the help of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. There is a temporary cease-fire in place.


China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France
Updated 28 November 2021

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France
  • China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said

BEIJING: China could face more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies by lifting travel curbs, according to a study by Peking University mathematicians.
In the report published in China CDC Weekly by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the mathematicians said China could not afford to lift travel restrictions without more efficient vaccinations or specific treatments.
Using data for August from the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Israel, the mathematicians assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries.
China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said.
And daily cases would hit 275,793 if China took the same approach as Britain and 454,198 if it imitated France, it said.
“The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden on the medical system,” the report said.
“Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace ‘open-up’ strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain western countries.”
The mathematicians cautioned that their estimates were based on basic arithmetic calculations and that more sophisticated models were needed to study the evolution of the pandemic if travel restrictions were lifted.
China has maintained a zero-tolerance policy toward COVID-19, saying the importance of containing local cases when they are found outweighs the disruptions caused by efforts to trace, isolate and treat the infected. China reported 23 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Nov. 27, down from 25 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa with a large number of mutations as being “of concern,” prompting some countries to impose travel curbs.


World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant

World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant
Updated 28 November 2021

World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant

World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant
  • Scientists are still learning about the variant, first identified at the start of this week
  • Several countries, including in the Gulf, institute travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa

JEDDAH: Fears mounted on Saturday that a highly infectious new COVID-19 strain was pushing its way into Europe as the world brought the shutters down to contain the new omicron variant.

Britain confirmed its first two infections and suspected new cases emerged in Germany and the Czech Republic, while Dutch authorities quarantined 61 passengers from South Africa who tested positive for COVID-19.

South Africa complained it was being “punished” with air travel bans for first detecting the strain, which the World Health Organization has termed a “variant of concern.”

South Korea, Australia, and Thailand joined the US, Brazil, Canada, and a host of other countries around the world restricting travel from the region, fearing a major setback to global efforts against the pandemic.

Saudi Arabia was among countries in the Middle East and North Africa to ban travelers from several African nations.

The Saudi Interior Ministry and authorities in the UAE said visitors from seven African countries were barred from entry.

They listed the countries as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Eswatini.

The Saudi ban comprises flights to and from those countries. But foreign nationals from the seven countries could enter the Kingdom if they had spent the previous 14 days in another country and comply with Saudi health protocols.

In a separate announcement on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said the Kingdom will allow direct entry to travelers from all countries who have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting next Saturday. The ministry added the travelers would need to quarantine for three days.

Scientists are racing to determine the threat posed by the heavily mutated strain, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant, and whether it can evade existing vaccines.

Anxious travelers thronged Johannesburg international airport, desperate to squeeze onto the last flights to countries that had imposed sudden travel bans. Many had cut holidays and rushed back from South African safaris and vineyards.

“It’s ridiculous, we will always be having new variants,” British tourist David Good said, passport in hand. “South Africa found it but it’s probably all over the world already.”

The WHO on Friday declared the recently discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19 to be a variant of concern, renaming it omicron.

Professor Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the omicron variant.

He said most of the mutations appear to be in similar regions as those in other variants.

South Africa is worried that the curbs will hurt tourism and other sectors of its economy, the Foreign Ministry said, adding the government is engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider.

Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, and some have re-introduced restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.