A deadly knife attack, appearing to be first of its kind, shook the southwestern city of Turku leaving 2 people dead and 8 people injured. It was carried out by an 18-year-old Moroccan citizen who came to Finland a year ago as an asylum seeker. The attack came at a time when Europe was witnessing a wave of terror attacks, most recently in Barcelona and Cambrils. What seems to be an out-spill of conflicts going on in the Middle East and North Africa in which some of the Western countries have had undeniable involvement, was yet to reach Finnish shores. A truck attack that took place as near as Stockholm five months ago further increased the fear and expectation of an attack.
The Interior Ministry of Finland has long worked in the prevention of violent extremism together with NGOs and community representatives, and the police forces have gone through drills and training regarding these types of events. The preparations and training most likely paid off when the fear of an attack became a reality. The police received information of multiple stabbings in the city center of Turku 4.02 pm; just 3 minutes later the main suspect was in custody and alive. The attacker was tamed with a single shot to the lower body. This speaks volumes about the Finnish police and their proportioned usage of force when taking into consideration the severity of the situation, something that their American cousins could take lessons from. Capturing the suspect alive must have greatly benefited the ongoing investigation and helped in shedding light to the underlying motives. It might also help reveal new suspects or even future plots.
These events should not lead to a cycle of revenge and violence. – The Interior Minister Paula Risikko stressed on a TV-interview at YLE.
The initial comments from the police and other officials had a restrained and patient tone when discussing the possible motives of the attack. The country’s National Bureau of Investigation said in the early hours of the investigation that the attack is not being investigated as a terror act, while terrorism as a motive was not ruled out. Later on in the investigation police confirmed that it had attained more information related to the attack and is now investigating it as terrorism.
Among the injured victims of Friday’s knife attack were two Muslim men who confronted the attacker and helped stabbed victims while getting stabbed multiple times themselves. Regardless of this, a notion of hatred and revenge towards all Muslims has emerged. Within a couple of days, there have been reports of mosques and Muslim-owned business being stoned; a sharp increase in racist and Islamophobic slurs on the streets and online, and even assaults on minors. The most recent account of an assault possibly provoked by Friday’s attack was witnessed in Vantaa, a city neighboring the capital Helsinki. A non-fatal stabbing whereby the attacker first asked his victim if he was a Muslim before proceeding to harm the innocent victim. Police have confirmed that it is indeed investigating the aforementioned assaults.
A recent scandal revealed a hidden Facebook group exclusively for and being used by police as a ‘safe space’ to be openly racist and derogative towards immigrants, especially Muslims. As a result, this revelation led to mistrust towards the police. To make matters worse, the group consisted of over 2800 members which accounts for one-third of the entire police force of Finland. With all the success that the police have had so far due to their training and preparation, it seems that the police could have done more to counter Islamophobia within their own ranks and in preparing to counter the wider backlash against the Muslims repeatedly following these types of unjustifiable events.
Picture: Islamophobic threats recently sprayed onto the streets of Helsinki “Let’s kill the Muslims” [Adam Abdi Adam]