The murder of three bus passengers in Norway has rekindled criticism of the Norwegian police’s ability to react to violent crimes two and a half years after the Breivik massacre.
Police say the man suspected of hijacking a bus on Monday evening, killing all on board, was a 30-year-old asylum seeker from South Sudan whose application had been rejected and who was due to be deported.
The man, whose name has not been made public, had left an asylum centre in Aardal in western Norway, unaccompanied, police officer Aage Loeseth said.
As the bus travelled along a quiet mountain road towards Oslo, he is suspected of fatally stabbing the two other passengers and the driver.
“We don’t know the motive. It’s up to the investigation to determine that,” police commissioner Ronny Iden told reporters, adding that the suspect was not previously known to the police.
The victims of the attack were the driver and a Swedish passenger, both men in their 50s, and a 19-year-old woman.
“We did not detect any early warning signs,” said Tor Brekke, assistant director at Hero, the organisation which runs the asylum centre.
“This is completely unexpected. There was nothing to suggest that he was unstable or could have done something like this.”
In Norway since April, the suspect was housed in Aardal since late August but in line with the Dublin Convention he was due to be deported to Spain where he had first applied for asylum before travelling to Norway.
“The trip he took yesterday (Monday) seems to have been on his own initiative” and not connected to his deportation, said Brekke.
The man was yet to be questioned by police early on Tuesday afternoon as he was receiving hospital treatment for knife cuts.
Fire fighters and medical personnel were first to arrive on the scene, ahead of police, and used a fire extinguisher to disable him.
At the time of the attack the nearest police patrol was 90km away and it took an hour and a quarter for them to arrive.
That fact has re-awakened criticism of the police which surfaced after the brutal massacre carried out by the right wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik on July 21, 2011.
“The reaction time seems to be long, seeing as the fire brigade and ambulances were the first at the scene. That’s troubling,” Arild Ingar Laegreid, the mayor of Aardal, said on Norwegian television.
Medical personnel took a quarter of an hour to alert the police, who then took a 40km detour to the crime scene – first thought to be a traffic accident – as they wrongly thought the most direct route was unpassable due to weather conditions.
Breivik killed 69 young Labour Party members on the island of Utoeya on a 75-minute shooting rampage, which was preceded by a bomb attack killing eight in central Oslo.
The police came under intense scrutiny at the time for reacting too slowly to the killings.
Since arriving in power last month, Norway’s new centre-right government has promised to increase police resources and step up security in the country.
One election promise high on the agenda of conservative prime minister Erna Solberg was reorganising the police and improving their reaction times.