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Pictures: Jessica Rocha for Finland Today
A subdued weekend was punctuated by a moment of silence and reflection observed at the spot where just two days earlier Finland experienced its first terrorist attack.
At least a couple of hundred people sought out each other’s quiet company Sunday morning, fighting the wind to light candles, or placing flowers or notes in Turku’s main city square and other makeshift memorials dotting the downtown.
They came to show solidarity, to mourn, and to ask questions that may never be answered. “I think people are very sad, and people want to know why this happened,” said Tanja Kukkula, 37, of Turku.
The attack occurred late Friday afternoon — the day after a Barcelona attack killed 13 by ramming a vehicle through a crowded thoroughfare. In Turku, a man wielding a knife targeted women starting around 16:00 and ended about five minutes later with two women dead and eight other people injured. Police shot and then arrested the man that law enforcement have described as an 18-year-old from Morocco who came to Finland last year seeking asylum. Since then, law enforcement has made additional arrests and continue to search for one additional individual.
The incident began in Turku’s main market square, or Kauppatori, where one woman was fatally knifed. The attacker moved north, injuring others is his path until police stopped him, but not before another woman was killed.
The man was arrested in Turku’s Puutori, a square which hosts a Wäinö Aaltonen sculpture named “When Friendships are Made,” commissioned in the 1950s to celebrate Turku and Gothenburg as twin cities. The square is also home to a former public bathroom that has been converted into a well-known English pub called the Waterloo.
The Kauppatori is normally a lively part of town with outdoor food and produce stands, ice cream and coffee kiosks. Tourists and locals alike gather there. It’s the city’s heart, surrounded by businesses and shops, and is the main transfer spot for Turku’s buses. It has predictably been more quiet than usual this weekend, and has served as a gathering place for the grieving to show their respects, to share their experiences, to voice questions of uncertainty.
On Sunday morning, people from all walks of life circled the makeshift memorial, casting their eyes down and about, quietly as the orthodox church’s bells tolled for several minutes.
There was no podium, no microphones and no political grandstanding or rushes to judgment. Instead, people spoke in hushed tones — stories of close calls, or what if’s and what’s next.
Just in front of Tanja Kukkula stood a woman wearing a headscarf indicating her Muslim faith, her eyes damp with tears. Asking not to use her name or photo, the woman explained that her husband is from North Africa and works in the market square. “Really, I didn’t expect it to happen here,” she said. “In the big cities like Barcelona or Paris, it’s expected. We are a big city for Finland, but I live here. For me, it’s like a small village.”
Turku is inhabited by about 187,600 people. It’s a southwestern city founded in the 13th century, making it the oldest city in Finland and the first capital of the country, later handing the title to Helsinki.
She recounted the wave of emotions of she and her husband after they arrived to the square early Friday evening minutes after the arrest, not knowing what had just transpired and seeing a lifeless body, head covered with a sheet. “It could have been anyone,” she said, noting that even a mother like herself, pushing a stroller that held her youngest two children, could have been targeted.
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On the memorial circle’s periphery, Johanna and Joonas Aromaa, 33, stood with their one-year-old. They had come to Turku from Helsinki on Friday for a weekend holiday and were anticipating spending it visiting with friends.
Joonas said he had gone out with a group of friends for a couple of beers Friday, but things quickly changed. “After we read the news the mood changed,” he said. Instead of a guys’ night out, the group returned to be with their families.
Johanna said that they had been hoping the attack would be attributed to a single mentally ill individual, but once it was labeled as a terrorist incident, the worry deepened. “I think we can recognize that these forces exist in Finland,” she said, quickly adding that this doesn’t mean that people should be labeled or categorized. “But it seems that even medium-sized cities are in danger of being attacked.”
According to news reports, Finland security officials for the first time said they have arrested individuals with no warrants or charges, which they say is allowed in certain circumstances under the law. The Aromaas said they trusted the government to not abuse their power. “My opinion is that when it’s about terrorism, you can do anything needed to stop these things,” Joonas said.
The couple noted that the incident in Turku seemed interlinked with events in Barcelona and other unrest and that each attack may provoke additional events in other locations. Johanna said it was scary because there is not one individual directing the attacks so it seems more difficult to prevent.
Vesa Ekholm and his family drove from Paimio to reflect on the moment. He said he was working in Turku on Friday, where his workplace holds a weekly meeting at the pub in Puutori. The meeting usually ends right at 16:00, when the attack began. This week, though, the group left 10 minutes early.
Ekholm expressed his thanks to Turku’s local police force. He also noted how many bystanders of many backgrounds quickly got involved and followed the attacker to stop him. “It’s very touching,” he said. “I would like to have such courage if needed.”
With his family Ekholm said they have been talking about the incident, asking how their teenaged children feel. He stressed that individuals are responsible for the attack, not people from certain countries or of a certain religious view. He said his son shared that he was ashamed that some of his immigrant friends have been harassed or assaulted.
Abdoullahi Sultan, 36, said that he still sometimes feels like a foreigner in Finland. He came to the country alone as a 13-year-old refugee from Somalia. He is now the executive director of Globaali Nuoret Ry, working with immigrant youth to create structure and support for them. He brought his six-year-old daughter to the Kauppatori site.
“I would like to teach my daughter we are all one society, one nation,” he said.
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