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Iceland, land of the poles, is concerned about a series of violent actions

published on Sunday 10 April 2022 at 08:24 am

Farewell, “the most peaceful country in the world”? Several shootings and stabbings in recent months have disrupted Iceland’s usual tranquility, according to police linked to criminal gangs.

At the top of the Global Peace Index since its inception in 2008, the small country of 375,000 people is more used to stories of crime in its famous thrillers than to the headlines.

“A firearm for Icelanders is a symbol of sport or hunting,” says sociologist Helgi Gunnlaugsson.

“But in the collective mind it is very strange to use a weapon to protect yourself or to attack someone,” he told AFP.

Since 2000, only four gun homicides have occurred on the island. But in just over a year, four shootings have taken place, one of which has been fatal.

The murder of a man, coldly shot with nine bullets outside his home in a residential area of ​​Reykjavík, in February 2021 shocked Icelanders. The murder was linked to organized crime, according to police.

“Criminal groups in Iceland are increasingly organized,” criminologist Margrét Valdimarsdóttir analyzes. “They have more connections to international groups than we’ve seen before, which can be a challenge for our police.”

In February, two personal disputes between those already convicted, on the background of drug trafficking, ended in shootings in the capital’s city center two days in a row.

“We are used to saying that it takes five to ten years in Iceland to see what we see elsewhere in Europe,” explains Runólfur Thórhallsson, commissioner of the Icelandic Police’s elite unit.

“That worries us, of course,” he admits.

– Unarmed Police –

Iceland is one of the few countries in the world where the police do not carry weapons while performing their official duties.

However, since the end of 2015, service cars have been equipped with pistols in special safes, a measure taken after the 2011 Oslo and Utøya attacks.

Only a limited number of police officers from the elite unit, the Viking Squad, are permanently heavily equipped: body armor, semi-automatic weapons or even ballistic shields.

Introduced in 1982, its main missions are to assist the National Police when the presence of weapons is reported. The number of interventions has multiplied by almost six since 2014.

“We are seeing a trend in our criminal world where individuals are less hesitant to use guns, more with knives than firearms,” notes Mr Thórhallsson, acknowledging that he is somewhat… disarmed to explain the reasons.

If the arming of all security forces in the country is not seriously considered, the Interior Ministry plans to equip the police with tasers.

The latter would be in favor of it, but above all demand more resources, according to Fjölnir Sæmundsson, chairman of the national union.

With 682 police officers in 2021, Iceland has the proportionally lowest number in Europe behind Finland, according to Eurostat, with a level almost twice the European average.

– A safe country –

Studlar, a government agency on the outskirts of Reykjavík, cares for children and adolescents aged 12 to 18 in difficulties – drug problems, crime, serious behavioral problems…

Director Funi Sigurdsson also says he has observed a slight increase in violent incidents.

For this 43-year-old father, with “some of the children arriving in this institution, you could sense from the age of six that they were going to end up here”.

“If we had acted very well from then on, we might have prevented them from getting into this situation.”

Several of the individuals recently involved in settling accounts have also passed through his establishment.

But if the situation is alarming in a country that is not used to violence, that is not alarming, the experts underline.

“It is important to note that Iceland is still a country with an extremely low crime rate,” Valdimarsdóttir said.

“But according to the police, we are seeing more violent attacks in Iceland.”

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