Iceland: the “most peaceful country in the world” rocked by several shooting and stabbing attacks

Several shootings and stabbings have disrupted Iceland, a small Scandinavian nation of 375,000, which has been known for months as the “most peaceful country in the world”. Police say the charges are linked to criminal gangs.

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

“A firearm for Icelanders symbolizes sport or hunting,” sociologist Helgi Gunnlaugsson told AFP.

“But in the collective mind it’s very strange to use a weapon to protect yourself or to target someone.”

Organized crime

Only four gun murders have been taking place in Iceland since 2000… But in just over a year, the country has been the scene of four shootings, one of which was 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. A murder that police say is linked to ‘organized crime’.

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

In February, two disputes between those already convicted, on the background of drug trafficking, ended in shootings in the capital’s city center. “Of course we are concerned about that,” said Runólfur Thórhallsson, commissioner of the elite unit of the United Nations. icelandic police

Rearming the police?

Iceland is one of the few countries in the world where the police do not carry weapons while performing their official duties. If the arming of all security forces in the country is not seriously considered, the Interior Ministry plans to equip the police with tasers.

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, it assists the National Police in the presence of weapons. The number of interventions has multiplied by almost six since 2014.

Since the end of 2015, service vehicles have also been equipped with pistols in special safes, a measure that was taken afterwards the attacks in Oslo and Utøya in 2011. “We’re seeing a trend where individuals in our criminal underworld are less hesitant to use guns, more with knives than firearms,” ​​notes Thorhallsson.

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.

temper the worries

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…

The director, Funi Sigurdsson, says he also saw a slight increase in the violent incidents† For this 43-year-old father, with “some of the children arriving in this institution, you saw from the age of 6 that they would end up here”.

Violence: increasingly younger offenders

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

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