September 24, 2020

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19-Aug-17: Two women stabbed to death in a central city square and Finland confronts a new reality
The attack scene on Friday afternoon [Via Twitter]

Finland’s oldest – and these days its sixth largest – city Turku (population 190,000) rarely makes the news. But it’s there now.

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, initial reports emerged that in one of its main central squares a man had stabbed two people to death and injured half a dozen others. He was shot and apprehended by police and members of the public were being urged to avoid the city center while authorities continued their investigation. The New York Times assured readers that

The authorities emphasized that the attack was not being treated as a terrorist act, but they did not offer any other information about the assailant’s motives. The suspect, who was not identified, was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to one of his legs… “We are not looking for other perpetrators at the moment, but we are looking into who might have helped him,” Markus Laine of the National Bureau of Investigation said. “We cannot rule out that others might have assisted him. We cannot say for sure if he is a Finnish citizen or a foreigner yet, but we are following several leads regarding his identity.”

But readers might have been perplexed by some of the details further down the page:

Wali Hashi, a journalist who saw the episode, said in an interview that a group of people chased the knife-wielding man, who was screaming “God is great” in Arabic. “I was shocked and terrified to see such a horrible incident,” Mr. Hashi said. The police declined to confirm whether the assailant had yelled anything in Arabic. The man then ran to another city square, where the police apprehended him and recovered the knife.

On the other hand, this report suggested

others say that he’s yelling “watch out” in Finnish.

Terrorism or not, security was promptly tightened at transit hubs including the local airport and the train stations in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, 180 kilometers away.

Tonight, Saturday, some nuances have been added to the record and the killings are now being called Finland’s “first suspected terrorist attack“. These details are from a prominent Finnish news service:

The attack is now being treated by Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as murder and attempted murder with a terrorist intent… The two [people] killed were Finnish citizens… The main suspect, an 18-year-old Moroccan man, remains hospitalised in critical condition after being shot in the hip by police. Police took four other individuals into custody overnight. Three people remain in intensive care, including the suspected assailant… …The three foreigners injured in Turku were from Britain, Sweden and Italy… Police believe the attacker apparently specifically targeted women, but otherwise chose his victims at random. Some of the victims have serious injuries, but none are considered life-threatening. The victims ranged in age from 15 to 67… The main suspect has so far been unwilling to speak to police, who plan to try again later on Saturday. [Finnish police: Main suspect in Turku attack is 18-year-old Moroccan“, YLE, August 19, 2017]

It goes on to say that the other four detainees are, like the man shot while allegedly knifing his victims, all Moroccan. They were arrested in private homes and at an asylum-seekers’ reception centre. There is now an international warrant out for “a fifth Moroccan”, in the words of the Finnish report.

The Helsinki Times adds that the “behaviour” of the attacker prior to the killings “gives reason to investigate the attack as an act of terrorism” and the attack was, to use their word, “premeditated“. But none of the suspects was on any police surveillance lists. And no links to terrorist organisations or criminal groups have been confirmed. The police won’t say if their attacker or any of those arrested had prior criminal records in Finland.

About the alleged stabber/killer, the police say he –

arrived in Finland early last year and was “involved in the asylum seeking process” – but say they cannot provide further details. The suspected attacker was living at a reception centre for asylum seekers in Turku… [YLE]

And this intriguing postscript

Europol is looking into whether there were any possible connections between the Turku incident and two deadly terror attacks in Spain on Thursday and Friday. Some of the suspects in those attacks are or were Moroccan men of around the same age as the Turku suspect. [YLE]

A Reuters report nearly a year ago [Asylum seekers protest in Helsinki against Finland’s tightened policy“, Reuters, September 8, 2016] noted that “more than 1 million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe last year, many fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and beyond. About 32,000 came to Finland almost two thirds of [them] from Iraq“. And that “anti-immigrant sentiment among Finns has been on the rise“.

While declining to raise the overall security alert level in his country, Finland’s prime minister Juha Sipilä made the perfectly correct but somewhat disingenuous observation earlier today that

“We have feared this. The day before in Barcelona and now in Turku. We are no longer an island…” The prime minister noted that Finland is still one of the world’s safest countries, adding: “We’re doing all we can to ensure that Finland remains that way.” [YLE].

We surely all wish them the best of luck in that.

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