TURKU: Finnish police said Saturday that a Moroccan asylum seeker targeted women in a stabbing spree that left two people dead, in what is being investigated as a terrorist attack.
Police shot and wounded the knife-wielding suspect on Friday, arresting him minutes after an afternoon stabbing rampage at a busy market square in Turku in southwestern Finland.
The man went after women specifically, killing two women, police said. Eight other people were injured, among them six women.
“We think that the attacker especially targeted women, and the men were wounded after coming to the defence of the women,” superintendent Christa Granroth of Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation told reporters.
Investigators had initially probed the stabbings as murders, “but in light of further information received during the night, the offences now include murders with terrorist intent and their attempts,” police said in a statement.
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Police identified the suspect as an 18-year-old Moroccan citizen who arrived in Finland in early 2016 and who had sought asylum. His name was not disclosed and his motive was not yet known.
“We tried to talk with the attacker in hospital but he didn’t want to speak,” Granroth said.
The suspect is being treated in hospital for a gunshot wound to the thigh.
Media reports said his asylum request had been rejected, but police would not confirm this, saying only that his case had been processed by migration authorities.
Police said they were examining whether the suspect had any link to the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for twin terror attacks in Spain on Thursday and early Friday.
“Whether or not there is a connection to IS will be one of the main focuses of the investigation,” Finnish intelligence agency SUPO director Antti Pelttari told reporters.
Police said they had issued an international arrest warrant for another person outside Finland who is believed to be dangerous.
Four Moroccan citizens were arrested in a Turku apartment and refugee reception centre overnight, police said, correcting their figure from five to four.
The four all have links to the suspect, but police have not yet established whether they were connected to Friday’s stabbing.
Police were also probing whether there was a link to the vehicle attacks in Barcelona and another Spanish seaside resort that killed 14 people and wounded around 100 others.
Most of the suspects in those attacks were also Moroccan citizens.
“Of course this is something we are going to investigate, whether it has something to do with the terrorist attack in Barcelona,” Granroth said.
Police said they believed the suspect had planned the Turku attack but selected his victims at random.
Among the eight injured were an Italian national, a Swede and a Briton, and the rest were Finns. The 10 were aged 15 to 67.
In June, SUPO raised Finland’s terror threat level by a notch, from “low” to “elevated”, the second on a four-tier scale.
It said at the time that it saw an increased risk of an attack committed by IS.
The agency said it was keeping a particularly close eye on around 350 individuals, an increase of 80 percent since 2012.
“Finland’s profile within the extremist propaganda has become stronger. Finland is considered as a Western country and a part of the anti-IS coalition, and propaganda is produced in the Finnish language and directed against Finland. The propaganda incites attacks in Finland,” SUPO wrote.
The stabbing rampage is the first terrorist attack in Finland.
Experts were cautious about drawing any links between the attack and Islamist extremism.
“But if it is related, this is pretty much a continuation of the easy-to-use blatant attacks that Europe has seen,” terrorism researcher Leena Malkki from the University of Helsinki told public broadcaster YLE.
Flags at half-mast
The interior ministry has ordered flags to fly at half-mast across Finland.
Immediately after the attack, the Nordic country raised its emergency readiness nationwide, increasing security at airports and train stations and putting more officers on the streets.
On Saturday, a demonstration in memory of the victims was held at the market square where the attack took place, organised by Iraqis, Turks and Syrians.
Finland, a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, saw a record 32,500 migrants seek asylum there in 2015.
That number fell to around 10,000 last year, after Finland, like its Nordic neighbours, tried to discourage asylum seekers by tightening rules and reducing social benefits.
But since 2015, authorities say more than 4,000 asylum seekers have disappeared, prompting fears of a growing number of migrants staying in the country illegally.