Lone Copenhagen gunman who killed three at shopping mall 'chose victims at random'

Arrested man was known to mental health services, say police, who do not believe incident was terror-related

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A gunman who opened fire in a shopping mall in Copenhagen, killing three people, most likely acted alone and selected his victims at random, Danish police said on Monday.

Copenhagen's chief police inspector Soren Thomassen said investigators did not believe Sunday’s attack was terror-related. There had been fears the assault was linked to terrorism as Denmark has in recent years experienced a rise in threats from Islamist and far-right fanatics.

While he could not yet comment on a motive, he said the attack appeared to have been prepared in advance.

“As things stand, it seems he was acting alone,” he said of a Danish man, 22, arrested in connection with the shootings.

“Our suspect is also known among psychiatric services, beyond that I do not wish to comment.”

He said the victims appeared to have been randomly targeted and there was nothing to indicate it was an act of terror.

“There is nothing in our investigation, or the documents we have reviewed, or the things we have found, or the witnesses’ statements we have gotten, that can substantiate that this is an act of terrorism,” Mr Thomassen said.

“Our assessment is that the victims were random, that it isn't motivated by gender or something else,” he added.

The three dead people have been identified as a Danish girl and boy, both aged 17, and a 47-year-old Russian citizen who had been living in Denmark. A further four were admitted to hospital after suffering injuries in the rampage: two Danish women, aged 19 and 40, a Swedish man, 50, and a Swedish girl, 16.

Police confirmed that the man under arrest was present at Field's mall at the time of the shooting and is known to the police “but only peripherally”. Mr Thomassen described the man in custody as an “ethnic Dane".

The suspected attacker arrived for a hearing in a packed courtroom on Monday, where he is expected to be arraigned on three preliminary charges of murder and four of attempted murder, according to Danish media. Preliminary charges are a step short of filing formal charges but allow authorities to keep a suspect in custody during an investigation. He cannot be named under a court order.

The shopping centre located 10 minutes by Metro from the city centre is home to more than 140 shops and restaurants and was crowded with people when the gunman opened fire.

He arrived at the centre armed with a rifle, a pistol and a knife, police said. While the guns were not believed to be illegal, the man did not hold a licence for them.

Police said they believe videos of the man circulating since Sunday evening on social media to be authentic.

He can be seen posing with weapons, mimicking suicide gestures and talking about psychiatric medication “that does not work”.

YouTube and Instagram accounts believed to belong to him were closed overnight.

A police officer stands in front of the closed Field's shopping mall in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Monday.  AP

On Sunday, police said the arrested man had been charged with manslaughter.

Police received the first reports of a shooting at 5.37pm and arrested the man 11 minutes later.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the Scandinavian country had been hit by a “cruel attack”.

“It is incomprehensible. Heartbreaking. Pointless,” Ms Frederiksen said. “Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second.”

She called the assault "unusually brutal, adding: “It was the worst possible nightmare."

Heavily armed police officers attended the scene and throngs of people were seen running out of the mall.

Witness Laurits Hermansen told Danish broadcaster DR that he was with his family when he heard “three, four bangs. Really loud bangs. It sounded like the shots were being fired just next to the store.”

Another person described how the suspect had tried to trick people by saying his weapon was fake to get them to approach. “He was sufficiently psychopathic to go and hunt people, but he wasn't running,” one unnamed witness told DR.

Others described seeing more than 100 people making a dash for the mall's exit as the first shots rang out.

Danish news site BT published unverified video footage it said was shot by a witness to the attack, Mahdi Al Wazni, showing a man with a large rifle walking through the mall and swinging it around his shoulders.

“He seemed very aggressive and shouted different things,” Mr Al Wazni said.

Footage published by media outlet Ekstra Bladet showed a person being carried by rescue workers into an ambulance on a stretcher.

“People first thought it was a thief … then I suddenly heard shots and threw myself behind the counter inside the store,” witness Rikke Levandovski told broadcaster TV2.

“He is just shooting into the crowd, not up in the ceiling or into the floor.”

Another witness, Isabella, told public broadcaster DR: “My friend and I … suddenly we hear shots. I hear about 10 shots and then run as fast as we can into a toilet. We squeeze into this tiny toilet, where we are around 11 people.”

The shopping mall is on the outskirts of Copenhagen, across from a subway station for a line that connects the city centre with the international airport. A major motorway also runs next to the mall.

Organisers called off a Harry Styles concert that had been scheduled at the nearby Royal Arena.

On social media, Styles wrote: “My team and I pray for everyone involved in the Copenhagen shopping mall shooting. I am shocked. Love, H.”

People hug each other in front of the Field's shopping mall in Copenhagen, where a gunman killed three people. AFP

The attack follows a deadly shooting in neighbouring Norway last week, in which two people were killed by a gunman in the capital Oslo.

The terrorist threat against Denmark is assessed to be “serious”, with the biggest risk coming from “militant Islamism”, the latest report from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service says.

The threat to Denmark from right-wing extremists is considered at a “general” level, which means there is capability and/or intent and possibly planning.

Denmark last had a militant attack in 2015, when two people were killed and six police wounded when a gunman shot and killed a man outside a culture centre hosting a debate on freedom of speech, and later killed a person outside a Jewish synagogue in central Copenhagen.

Updated: July 04, 2022, 1:46 PM
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