A man armed with a bow has fired arrows at shoppers in a small Norwegian town, killing five people before he was arrested, authorities said.

Police in the community of Kongsberg, near the capital of Oslo, said there was “a confrontation” between officers and the assailant, but he did not elaborate.

Two other people were wounded and were in intensive care, including an officer who was off duty and inside the shop where the attack took place, police said.

“The man who carried out the act has been arrested by the police, and there is no active search for more people. Based on the information we have, there is one person behind this,” Police Chief Oeyving Aas said.

Police Chief Oeying Aas
Police Chief Oeyving Aas (Terje Pedersen/NTB/AP)

Acting prime minister Erna Solberg described the attack as “gruesome” and said it was too early to speculate on a motive.

Prime minister-designate Jonas Gahr Stoere, who is expected to take office on Thursday, called the assault “a cruel and brutal act”.

Police were alerted to the attack at around 6.15pm and arrested the suspect about 30 minutes later.

According to police, the suspect walked around shooting arrows in central Kongsberg, a community of 26,000 about 40 miles south west of Oslo.

Norway Attack
Police at the scene (Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/AP)

Mr Aas declined to comment on reports that the man used a crossbow, saying only there were “several crime scenes”.

The man has not been questioned yet, he added.

Norway’s domestic security agency PST was informed of the assault.

Town officials invited people affected by the attack and their relatives to gather for support at a local hotel.

Mass killings are rare in Norway. The country’s worst peacetime slaughter was on July 22 2011, when right-wing extremist Anders Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo, killing eight people, then headed to tiny Utoya Island, where he stalked the mostly teenage members of the Labour Party’s youth wing and killed another 69.

Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum under Norwegian law, but his term can be extended as long as he is considered a danger to society.