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BEHAVIORAL THREAT ASSESSMENT: Espen Andersen Braathen

Person of Interest (POI): Espen Andersen Braathen

Beatriz Adell Quesada, Diana Smith, Angeliki Siafaka, Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team

Jason Bratcher, Morgan Kennedy, Editors; Clea Guastavino, Senior Editor


Espen Andersen Braathen[1]


Summary


The Norwegian police are collecting information about the bow and arrow attack in Kongsberg, Norway on October 13, 2021. After identifying and arresting Espen Andersen Braathen, law enforcement is investigating the incident to determine if it can be classified as an act of domestic terrorism and to find the motive of the attack. After conducting analysis on Braathen, the following assessments have been reached. Based on the publically available information at the time of this report, it is not appropriate to classify Braathen as a terrorist, nor the attack as an act of terrorism because there is not enough information available regarding the motive. It is very likely that Braathen acted alone, and the people of Kongsberg and the Coop Extra supermarket in Kongsberg were the targets of the attack. It is likely that the goal of the attack was to kill and harm as many individuals as possible. It is likely that Braathen’s attack was motivated by a psychotic episode, likely from schizophrenia. It is likely that Braathen’s attack will inspire copycat attacks due to the use of unusual weapons. The classification of this attack will only be confirmed once the motive has been confirmed. Although Braathen acted alone, and The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) does not foresee an attack being derived from this event, copycat attacks are a security concern due to the unique use of a bow and arrows. The attack is very likely to inspire and give rise to the use of unusual weapons in future attacks.


Event Overview


On Wednesday, October 13, 2021, a man using a bow and arrows killed five people in Kongsberg, Norway. The local police department received several calls about a man shooting arrows at the Coop Extra supermarket in Central Kongsberg. The attacker walked from his home to the Coop Extra where he shot several arrows before entering the store, shooting several more inside. The attack was reported at 1813 local time, and the police arrived at the scene six minutes later where they confronted the attacker, who shot at them and escaped. The perpetrator continued to fire arrows at people in public at random, and he entered people’s homes. He killed four women and one man, all between 50 and 70 years old. Three others were injured during the attack, and the investigation has identified 16 more victims of attempted homicide.[2] The suspect was arrested at 1847 local time on Hyttegata Street in Kongsberg.[3] The police identified the suspect as 37-year-old Espen Andersen Braathen. Police inspector Per Thomas Omholt said that he believed Braathen used arrows to wound his victims and then killed them by stabbing them with unspecified stabbing weapons.[4] Braathen confessed to the killings and was initially charged with five murders, although the list of charges is likely to be extended as the investigation continues.


POI Overview - Items of Interest


On October 14, 2021, the Norwegian police identified Espen Andersen Braathen as the perpetrator of the bow and arrow attack in Kongsberg.[5] Espen Andersen Braathen is a Danish citizen raised by his Danish mother and Norwegian father in Kongsberg, Norway.[6] Braathen lived in the town of Kongsberg nearly all his life.[7] Below are some areas of interest that will identify observable indicators and characteristics to determine if there was a chance to prevent this attack.

  1. One of Braathen’s friends described how Braathen had changed in his late teens and pushed people away, becoming a loner.[8]

  2. Braathen’s friends and acquaintances described him as a soft-spoken and amicable young man who took a “sudden disturbing turn.” They said that Braathen was a kind person who was not seeking attention, interested in skateboarding, hip-hop, and smoking hashish.[9]

  3. One of Braathen’s relatives said that he became marginalized in his adolescence and had been seriously mentally ill, adding that Braaathen had threatened his relatives for years.[10]

  4. Braathen has a lengthy criminal history as police said that he had been convicted several times in the past. In 2012, Braathen was convicted of burglary and cannabis possession.[11] He was also convicted of breaking and entering into a local mining museum.[12]

  5. Police described Braathen as a Muslim convert.[13] In 2015, Braathen visited a mosque at Kongsberg’s Islamic Cultural Center asking for help, saying that he needed to deliver a message to the world which he had received from God. Braathen returned to the mosque two more times to seek help in delivering what he claimed to be divine messages.[14]

  6. In 2017, one of Braathen’s friends brought attention to videos that Braathen posted online. In the videos, Braathen said that he was a Muslim and described himself as a messenger who needs to bring a warning, adding that “the time has come.”[15]

  7. Braathen had been suspected of becoming radicalized, and regional police chief Ole Bredrup Saeverud said that officers had contacted him over these concerns in the past.[16]

  8. In 2020, Braathen was given a six-month restraining order against two family members, allegedly his parents, because he refused to leave their house and threatened to kill one of them.[17] It was reported that the police discovered that during this incident, Braathen had left a Colt revolver on the sofa which led them to believe that Braathen could potentially harm his family.[18]

  9. Hans Sverre Sjovold, head of Norway’s security service (PST), stated that the suspect had been in and out of the health system for some time.[19]

  10. An acquaintance of Braathen said that he had been suffering from serious mental health problems for a long time.[20]

  11. In 2010 and 2018, Braathen underwent psychiatric examinations, and he received treatment at the Kongsberg district psychiatric center at least once.[21]

  12. One of Braathen’s neighbors said that he had strange habits such as opening all the mailboxes on the road and walking to and from the Coop Extra supermarket three or four times in an hour.[22]

  13. Neighbors said that they had seen Braathen rigorously practicing martial arts in his garden and training with “club or baton” weapons.[23]

  14. A woman who knew Braathen said that “his sentences would trail off.” The same woman said that she saw Braathen a few days before the attack, and he suddenly started acting paranoid, frantically checking over his shoulder.[24]

  15. The police believe that Braathen bought the weapons used in the attack online some time before the incident.[25]


Observable Indicators and Characteristics

To indicate whether this event was a lone-actor terrorist attack, CTG has assessed Espen Andersen Braathen using the Terrorist Radicalization Assessment Protocol (TRAP-18), a structured professional judgment instrument for those engaged in risk assessment of persons of concern for acts of terrorist violence. The TRAP-18 consists of 8 proximal warning behaviors and 10 distal characteristics which have been displayed throughout past terrorist attacks (for more information about the scientific method, validity, current usage of the TRAP-18, and definitions of the behaviors and characteristics, see the provided source).[26]


Only the evidence which has been proven and confirmed are checked on this list. Unchecked boxes may or may not have been exhibited by Braathen but are, for now, unknown.



Classification as Terrorism


According to the creators of the TRAP-18, the majority of lone actors were positive on 13 of 18 TRAP-18 variables (72%).[27] These individuals showed a frequency of >70% on the distal factors of personal grievance/moral outrage, framed by an ideology, thwarting of occupational goals, and changes in thinking and emotion, and 77% or more on the four proximal warning behaviors, namely pathway, fixation, identification, and leakage.[28] Lone-actor terrorists tend to display a pattern of common pre-attack behaviors that distinguish them from other criminals. Using the TRAP-18 is not fool-proof, but CTG can compare Espen Andersen Braathen’s traits to those of known lone-actor terrorists to help us determine whether this attack was a terrorist act or simply motivated by a personal grievance.


Based on the information available at the time of this report, Braathen displayed three total indicators that are associated with lone-actor terrorists. As there are very few similarities between Braathen’s behavior and that displayed by terrorists, CTG assesses that it cannot classify his attack as an act of terrorism. While it is easy to assume this was an act of terrorism based on the fear produced by his unusual choice of a bow and arrows, that is not enough to label this an act of terrorism. Braathen’s attack appears to have been triggered by his deteriorated mental health, and it is unlikely that his conversion to Islam played a major role. Braathen does not seem to have a strong attachment to this religious ideology, and there is not enough evidence to suggest that Braathen had become radicalized. However, if more information regarding his beliefs and his motivations behind the attack becomes available, CTG will reassess its classification of the attack.


Target and Goal


The target of the attack was the Coop Extra supermarket in the town of Kongsberg. After Braathen’s initial attack at the supermarket, he fled and entered nearby residences. He likely entered the residences with the goal of increasing his murder count, but the details of those interactions and victims have not been released. There were no other perpetrators found or described at the crime scene; Braathen almost certainly acted alone. Considering that Braathen lived in Kongsberg, it is likely that his selection of the local supermarket as his initial target was motivated by his familiarity with the area.[29] Based on the randomness of the victim selection and the multiple weapons used, it is likely that his goal was to kill or harm as many individuals as possible before apprehension. His prior conflict with the police during the initial attack suggests that he was likely aware that he would face legal consequences. With this in mind, his decision to proceed with killing people likely indicates he felt compelled to kill. Based on his deteriorated mental health, it is likely that he was under a delusion that was driving him to kill. Police indicated that it is likely Braathen purchased the bow and arrows prior to the attack.[30] While this could suggest that his intention to commit the attack was premeditated, this hypothesis is undermined by the apparent impulsivity and irrationality of Braathen’s behavior. According to court records, prior to his restraining order, Braathen had left a Colt revolver on his parents’ sofa.[31] As there is no evidence that the revolver was removed from him after the issuing of the restraining order, it is possible that Braathen still owned it at the time of the attack. In this case, Braathen’s choice of a bow and arrows over a .45 Colt revolver could be indicative of an impaired cost-benefit analysis. While most guns can fire rapidly, arrows must be individually drawn and directed. This implies that a bow and arrows are almost certainly less suitable for maximizing death than most conventional firearms. If confirmed that Braathen still owned a revolver at the time of the attack, the disparity between his choice of weapon and his apparent goal would undermine the probability that he had been extensively researching, planning, or preparing for the attack.


Motive


Police are exploring the possibility that Islamic extremism motivated Braathen’s attack, but the evidence available at the time of this report does not support this. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, radicalization refers to “the process of adopting an extremist belief system, including the willingness to use, support, or facilitate violence, as a method to affect societal change.”[32] Despite being a Muslim convert, Braathen’s acquaintances said he was uninterested in talking about religion and knew nothing about Islam.[33] This undermines the possibility that he would be willing to use, support, or facilitate violence in the name of Islam, rendering his radicalization very unlikely. Any potential association between his Muslim faith and the attack is also compromised by the ambiguity of his video-recorded “warning,” as it is unclear whether his intended divine “message” was violent in nature. Four years between the filming of the video and the attack is also likely too far apart to warrant an association, particularly in the absence of an explicit threat of violence.


The evidence at the time of this report suggests that it is likely that Braathen’s attack was motivated by a psychotic episode, likely rooted in a condition of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder usually characterized by hallucinations, delusions, social withdrawal, and disorganized or unusual thinking and behavior, typically showing up during the late teenage years.[34] The paranoid and frantic behavior described in Braathen by his acquaintances, and his reported habit of walking back and forth between his house and the Coop Extra three to four times in an hour and opening mailboxes, are examples of his unusual behavior and are consistent with symptoms of schizophrenia. His reported transition from being an amicable, kind person to embracing seclusion also reinforces this hypothesis, as it manifests an abrupt social withdrawal coinciding with the late stages of his teenagehood. While there is no evidence of a strong causal link between schizophrenia and violence, a 2020 study by Nature Partner Journals Schizophrenia (npj Schizophrenia) found that schizophrenic individuals who consumed cannabis regularly were distinctively prone to violence.[35] As it is likely that Braathen suffered from schizophrenia, his conviction in 2012 for cannabis possession and his reported smoking habits indicate that he likely had a lower threshold for violence than the average person. It was likely easier for Braathen to give in to strong, negative emotions than it is for regular people. Psychotic episodes are characterized by acute feelings of confusion, anxiety, anger, or suspicion.[36] It is likely that these episodes found a violent outlet in Braathen, triggering the attack. A psychotic episode would also explain why Braathen was in a poor mental state at the time of his arrest, as it is likely that intense psychological experiences are mentally draining.


Conspiracy Theories and Copycats


There are no indications of Braathen’s belief or involvement in conspiracy theories or copycat attacks. However, it is possible that Braathen’s attack will inspire copycat attacks. It took the police around 30 minutes from when they first arrived at the scene to detain Braathen.[37] This delay enabled Braathen to maximize his death count, so it is likely that prospective offenders will interpret it as a sign of success. The perceived realization of Braathen’s goal is likely to feed into the confirmation bias of future perpetrators, leading them to believe that they too could achieve their goals if they engaged in violent action. While the cause of the police’s delay remains under investigation, it is possible that prospective offenders will attribute this delay to the confusion generated by his unusual choice of weapon. If they believe the unusual weapon increased his kill count, it is likely that they too will resort to unusual weapons in an attempt to emulate Braathen’s success. To deter future copycat attacks, it is important that the judicial system take action to sentence Braathen quickly. If his sentencing is delayed, the perceived lack of legal consequences is likely to reinforce future perpetrators’ perceptions that the attack was successful, boosting their intent to commit an attack of their own. If Braathen expresses regret in the future, his message should be published widely to dissuade prospective offenders from idolizing him.


Future Implications


The case of Espen Andersen Braathen underscores the importance of monitoring individuals with psychotic disorders and a habit of smoking cannabis, as well as providing them with continued access to psychological rehabilitation programs. Braathen constantly left and re-entered the health system throughout his life, so it is unlikely that he had uninterrupted access to a consistent group of mental health professionals. Considering 20-25% of people who are referred to Norway’s psychiatric system are turned down, it is possible that Braathen was turned down at some point.[38] The possibility that his attack may have been prevented had he taken part in a psychological rehabilitation program on a continued basis cannot be ruled out. Given the potential for copycat attacks, Norwegian authorities should consider subjecting the purchase of bows and arrows to more restrictions than the current ones. The growing use of these unusual weapons would very likely diminish the usefulness of gun laws as preventive measures. Because bows and arrows are not classified as illegal weapons in Norway, their purchase and sale are not restricted, and owners are not required to register them.[39] Had compulsory registration or purchasing restrictions on bow and arrows been in place, Braathen’s attack would have likely been harder to carry out. Norwegian authorities could have likely better-monitored ownership of these weapons, preventing them from going to individuals who were a potential threat to public safety.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has become the global leader in proactively fighting terrorist organizations around the world. CTG specializes in intelligence collection, and analysis, as well as investigative work to counterterrorism. CTG resources are delivered to advise clients on a business resilience process using current threat intelligence data. We scan for threats across the following regions; Africa, Central Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Asia-Pacific. Our organization assesses evolving threats through, Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) services. Our W.A.T.C.H Officers and Digital Targeters monitor the threat posed by cyber threats, insider threats, fraud, espionage, hazards, reputational damages, violent crime, kidnappings, and bombing threats. To find out more about our products and W.A.T.C.H. services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.


________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] The bow and arrow terrorist who killed five people in Norway has been identified as Muslim convert Espen Andersen Bråthen, Twitter, October 14, 2021, https://twitter.com/Shabbosgoy/status/1448632872647249920?s=20

[2] The investigation into the incident in Kongsberg continues on a large scale, Politiet, October 2021, https://www.politiet.no/en/politiet-informerer/incident-in-kongsberg/incident-in-kongsberg/the-investigation-into-the-incident-in-kongsberg-continues-on-a-large-scale/

[3] Suspect to be remanded in custody on Friday, Politiet, October 2021, https://www.politiet.no/en/politiet-informerer/incident-in-kongsberg/incident-in-kongsberg/suspect-to-be-remanded-in-custody-on-friday/

[4] Norway: Bow-and-arrow attack victims likely stabbed to death, ABC News, October 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/norway-bow-arrow-attack-victims-stabbed-death-80642307

[5] Suspect to be remanded in custody on Friday, Politiet, October 2021, https://www.politiet.no/en/politiet-informerer/incident-in-kongsberg/incident-in-kongsberg/suspect-to-be-remanded-in-custody-on-friday/

[6] Norwegian authorities say a deadly bow-and-arrow attack appears to be terrorism, NPR, October 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/10/14/1045941317/bow-arrow-attack-norway

[7] Espen Andersen Braathen: What we know so far about suspected Norway bow and arrow killer, Sky News, October 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/espen-andersen-braathen-what-we-know-so-far-about-suspected-norway-bow-and-arrow-killer-12433780

[8] Ibid

[9] Town Rattled by Bow-and-Arrow Killings Ponders Terrorism and Mental Illness, The New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/world/europe/norway-bow-and-arrow-killings.html

[10] Norway bow-and-arrow suspect in care amid concern for mental health, The Irish Times, October 2021, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/norway-bow-and-arrow-suspect-in-care-amid-concern-for-mental-health-1.4701409

[11] Espen Andersen Braathen: What we know so far about suspected Norway bow and arrow killer, Sky News, October 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/espen-andersen-braathen-what-we-know-so-far-about-suspected-norway-bow-and-arrow-killer-12433780

[12] Town Rattled by Bow-and-Arrow Killings Ponders Terrorism and Mental Illness, The New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/world/europe/norway-bow-and-arrow-killings.html

[13] Norwegian authorities say a deadly bow-and-arrow attack appears to be terrorism, NPR, October 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/10/14/1045941317/bow-arrow-attack-norway?t=1636284696163

[14] Town Rattled by Bow-and-Arrow Killings Ponders Terrorism and Mental Illness, The New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/world/europe/norway-bow-and-arrow-killings.html

[15] Espen Andersen Braathen: What we know so far about suspected Norway bow and arrow killer, Sky News, October 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/espen-andersen-braathen-what-we-know-so-far-about-suspected-norway-bow-and-arrow-killer-12433780

[16] Kongsberg: Bow and arrow attack appears to be terrorism - officials, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58910794

[17] Espen Andersen Braathen: What we know so far about suspected Norway bow and arrow killer, Sky News, October 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/espen-andersen-braathen-what-we-know-so-far-about-suspected-norway-bow-and-arrow-killer-12433780

[18] Espen Andersen Braathen, The Counter Extremism Project, n.d., https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/espen-andersen-braathen

[19] Kongsberg: Bow and arrow attack appears to be terrorism - officials, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58910794

[20] Espen Andersen Braathen: What we know so far about suspected Norway bow and arrow killer, Sky News, October 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/espen-andersen-braathen-what-we-know-so-far-about-suspected-norway-bow-and-arrow-killer-12433780

[21] Town Rattled by Bow-and-Arrow Killings Ponders Terrorism and Mental Illness, The New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/world/europe/norway-bow-and-arrow-killings.html

[22] Ibid

[23] Espen Andersen Braathen: What we know so far about suspected Norway bow and arrow killer, Sky News, October 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/espen-andersen-braathen-what-we-know-so-far-about-suspected-norway-bow-and-arrow-killer-12433780

[24] Ibid

[25] The investigation into the incident in Kongsberg continues on a large scale, Politiet, October 2021, https://www.politiet.no/en/politiet-informerer/incident-in-kongsberg/incident-in-kongsberg/the-investigation-into-the-incident-in-kongsberg-continues-on-a-large-scale/

[26] “Assessing the threat of lone-actor terrorism: the reliability and validity of the TRAP-18,” Forensische Psychiatrie, Psychologie, Kriminologie, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7149273/

[27] “Assessing the threat of lone-actor terrorism: the reliability and validity of the TRAP-18,” Forensische Psychiatrie, Psychologie, Kriminologie, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7149273/

[28] Ibid

[29] Kongsberg: Bow and arrow attack appears to be terrorism - officials, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58910794

[30] The investigation into the incident in Kongsberg continues on a large scale, Politiet, October 2021, https://www.politiet.no/en/politiet-informerer/incident-in-kongsberg/incident-in-kongsberg/the-investigation-into-the-incident-in-kongsberg-continues-on-a-large-scale/

[31] Espen Andersen Braathen, The Counter Extremism Project, n.d., https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/espen-andersen-braathen

[32] Recruitment and Radicalization of School-Aged Youth by International Terrorist Groups, Homeland Security Institute, April 2009, https://www.eccnetwork.net/sites/default/files/media/file/2009-recruitment-and-radicalization.pdf

[33] Town Rattled by Bow-and-Arrow Killings Ponders Terrorism and Mental Illness, The New York Times, October 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/world/europe/norway-bow-and-arrow-killings.html

[34] Symptoms - Schizophrenia, NHS, November 2019, https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms/

[35] Persistent cannabis use as an independent risk factor for violent behaviors in patients with schizophrenia, npj Schizophrenia, May 2020, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41537-020-0104-x

[36] Symptoms - Schizophrenia, NHS, November 2019, https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms/

[37] Norway bow-and-arrow attack appears to be 'act of terror' - police, Reuters, October 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/suspect-norway-bow-and-arrow-killings-is-danish-man-police-say-2021-10-14/

[38] Ibid

[39] Kongsberg: Bow and arrow attack appears to be terrorism - officials, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58910794

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