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article imageSuspect admits killings in Finnish stabbing spree

By Rebecca LIBERMANN (AFP)     Aug 22, 2017 in Crime

The main suspect in last week's stabbing attack in Finland admitted Tuesday to killing two people and injuring eight others but denied any intent to murder, his lawyer said.

The Turku district court placed Abderrahman Mechkah, an 18-year-old Moroccan citizen, in formal custody after he made his statement to the court via video link from hospital, where he is being treated for a police gunshot wound to the thigh.

"The main suspect admits acts which led to deaths, but denies that they were murders," his lawyer Kaarle Gummerus told AFP.

The stabbing is being investigated as Finland's first terror attack.

"The offender in Turku incident is suspected on probable cause of murders and attempted murders with terrorist intent and placed in detention," the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said in a Twitter post.

"He didn't explain the motive of the acts," Gummerus added.

The court also placed three other suspects in custody on Tuesday.

Police have said that Mechkah -- an asylum seeker who arrived in Finland in early 2016 -- targeted women in the Friday rampage at a market square in the southwestern port city of Turku.

Two Finnish women were killed and six women and two men were injured. Among the injured were a Briton, an Italian and a Swede.

Mechkah was shot by police minutes after the attack.

Map of central Turku in Finland  detailing Friday's knife attack
Map of central Turku in Finland, detailing Friday's knife attack

Most of the hearing was held behind closed doors, but press photos taken of the video screen at the beginning showed the suspect lying in his bed, his head propped up on pillows and his face shielded by a white sheet.

- Debate on immigration -

The country's intelligence agency SUPO said Monday that it had received a tip earlier this year that Mechkah might have become radicalised.

Because the tip did not contain information about a concrete threat of an attack, it had not yet been investigated, the agency said.

In June, the SUPO raised Finland's terror threat level one notch, to "elevated" from "low", the second on a four-tier scale.

It said at the time that it saw an increased risk of an attack committed by Islamic State group militants.

The agency noted that foreign fighters from Finland had "gained significant positions within IS in particular and have an extensive network of relations in the organisation."

The agency reiterated on Monday that it was closely watching around 350 individuals -- an increase of 80 percent since 2012.

Four other Moroccan citizens were arrested in a raid in Turku just hours after the attack.

On Tuesday, the Turku court placed three of them, Mohamed Bakier, Ilyas Berrouh, and Abdederrazak Essarioul, in custody.

Police say the suspect targeted women in the Finnish city of Turku  killing two and wounding eight p...
Police say the suspect targeted women in the Finnish city of Turku, killing two and wounding eight people on Friday
Vesa Moilanen, Lehtikuva/AFP/File

The nature of their involvement in the attack has not yet been made public.

Police meanwhile released the fourth man on Tuesday, saying he was no longer a suspect.

Friday's attack has shaken Finland, a normally-tranquil country of 5.5 million people, and prompted a debate about immigration in Finland.

The country saw a record 32,500 migrants seek asylum in 2015, falling to around 10,000 last year after Finland, like its Nordic neighbours, tried to discourage asylum seekers by tightening rules and reducing social benefits.

Police have refused to confirm if Mechkah's asylum application had been rejected, saying only that "he is in the middle of (an) asylum process in Finland and he has appealed against the decision he has received."

The head of the anti-immigrant populist Finns Party, which recently split from a more moderate faction of the party, called for rejected asylum seekers to be held in custody until they leave the country.

"The islands of Finland are well-suited for this purpose," Jussi Halla-aho said.

President Sauli Niinisto meanwhile urged Finns not to shut themselves off from the outside world.

"We cannot close our borders without isolating ourselves," he warned in an address to Finnish ambassadors.

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