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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

Terrorist attacks with knives

Posted on 25th August 2017 at 16:24pm

As predicted by European security experts, this summer has brought more cases of terrorist attacks in Europe, as well as around the world, writes Lina Kolesnikova. Two recent terrorist acts in the Finnish town Turku and Surgut in Siberia, Russia, are particularly significant owing to their locations and the modus operandi of the perpetrators. They were also both carried out by young men (an 18 and a 19-year-old).

The scene of the attack in Turku (Jukka Palm / Alamy Stock Photo)

Both cases were lone-wolf attacks (albeit probably with accomplices, who helped the perpetrators) and involved stabbing people in public places. The attacks happened in smaller towns, which usually do not present the most attractive targets for terrorists. In addition, the Finnish case is also the first terrorist attack in that country since the end of WWII.

On August 18, 2017, at 16:02hrs local time, a single male attacked several people with a knife at the Market Square in the centre of Turku. He then stabbed several more people while running towards Puutori. Bystanders intervened in and chased the attacker while simultaneously shouting to warn other people.

When police confronted the attacker, he ignored verbal orders and was immobilised with a single shot to the thigh. The assailant was given first aid and taken into custody. At least two people died – one at the scene of the incident, and another later on in the hospital. Eight victims sustained non-fatal wounds, but at least three of them were seriously injured. One of the victims was 15 years old, the others were adults. Eight of the victims were women. According to the police, the attacker purposely chose females as his victims, while two men were injured trying to help other victims or stop the attacker. One of the wounded was British, one Italian and one Swedish; both of the fatalities were Finnish women.

The Finnish police raised security levels across the whole country, particularly at Helsinki Airport and Helsinki Central railway station, along with other transport hubs across Finland. A crisis hotline and a physical crisis service point were established in the Turku area and the number of social workers was doubled.

Authorities later confirmed that Abderrahman Mechkah, an 18-year-old Moroccan, had arrived in Finland in 2016 and was: "Part of the asylum process.” This is similar to the Stockholm attack and the unsuccessful Oslo attack of last April, where asylum seekers were the perpetrators. In addition to the four other arrests in Finland, an international search warrant has been issued for a sixth suspect.

No group has claimed responsibility; though police are investigating possible links to Islamist militants in Barcelona. However, it has been previously noted that IS does not usually claim responsibility in cases where perpetrators are arrested.

Meanwhile IS claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in the Russian Siberian town of Surgut, which took place on August 19. IS also published a video claiming to show the perpetrator, Artur Gadzhiev, swearing allegiance to IS. Russian authorities, however, said they did not consider the events in Surgut to be a terrorist act, and that they were treating it as attempted murder of more than one person. Neither the Russian President or Prime Minister have yet commented on the event or expressed condolences to the victims and citizens of Surgut; the investigation is ongoing.

The Surgut incident occurred when 19-year old Gadzhiev, who is of Dagestani origin (Dagestan is a region in Russia’s North Caucusus, neighbouring Chechnya) travelled to the Severniy shopping centre in the afternoon. He changed his clothes for a long working black robe, put on a balaclava and fixed a fake suicide belt to his body. Afterwards he set a fire in the centre’s lobby, using inflammable liquid.

The fire was quickly put out by shopping-centre’s security guards. Strangely enough he did not attack people in the shopping centre who fled in panic. He ran out of the building, attacking a woman in his way who cried for help seeing the masked man. The first victim was attacked by axe, which he left next to the victim. The next victim was attacked with a knife and again the weapon was discarded. Afterwards he ran into grocery store where he took another knife from the counter, although he did not attack anyone in the store. He moved to the area of block buildings where he randomly attacked several people. At the same time he avoided a man with a child. Police shot him in the back.

The movements and actions of this perpetrator may suggest a use of substances or a psychiatric condition. According to Russian media, the young man was the son of famous Muslim radical. He worked as mall cop but had been fired just before the attack. His co-workers characterised him as a “nice” and “polite” young man but “very religious”. One of his co-workers insists that he was fired because of his habit of praying five times a day, which was not appreciated by the contracting agency.

So there are many questions that remain after this attack. Was he forced into this action or it was a deliberate act? Did he have a history of drug use, or was he mentally ill?

On August 24, The Moscow Times reported that at least ten people had been detained as part of the investigation into the attack, saying that people who knew the perpetrator, or who are suspected of having helped him. The report also said that two people, both from Dagestan, had been charged with abetting terrorism which, the paper says, contradicts the earlier statement from the authorities saying that the incident was being treated as attempted murder.

In CRJ 12:4, Lina Kolensnikova investigates the increasing number of radicalised operatives from the ex-Soviet Union regions of Central Asia and the Russian Caucasus – click here for more details

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