Heavy clouds hovered over the president’s official residence, Mäntyniemi, in Helsinki late on Sunday afternoon. Inside, the view from the big windows of the great salon opened to the sea, which appeared calm and President Sauli Niinistö walked into the salon and stood tall in his dark suit like the pine tree rising at the sea terrace behind him. He had invited members of the press to Mäntyniemi to share his thoughts about the shocking terror attack that took place in the southwestern city of Turku on Friday afternoon. “During the weekend, terror arrived in Finland and Turku. We are all shocked about the immense and inconceivable violence that the perpetrator did there,” Niinistö said.
After expressing his condolences to the victims and to the relatives of the victims, Niinistö thanked the police and the bystanders in Turku who “strived to protect each other and other people.” “The Finnish police resolved the incident quickly. Their and the rescue personnel’s work helped to restore the feeling of safety. We can trust in the actions of our authorities,” he said.
Niinistö spoke about immigration. He said that the incident has, of course, raised a lot of discussions. I tried to arrange Niinistö’s remarks in proper context with the horrible facts of Friday’s terror attack in Turku, where a foreigner, in this case an 18-year-old Moroccan, who while hunting women with his jungle knife stabbed eight people and murdered two, until the police shot him in the leg. The man was an asylum seeker.
The perpetrator has been silent, laying in intensive care at the Turku University Hospital, in solitary and heavily guarded since Saturday evening after the hospital received a death threat. On Sunday, the police reported that they have been able to interrogate him for the first time. The police, however, didn’t reveal any details of the hearing because of the ongoing investigations.
The key to discussions, according to the president, is to understand the other participant, even if one wouldn’t agree. “I think that only together we can survive matters like this.” “A dominant factor in discussions related to immigration has been that the desire to misunderstand has been greater than the desire to understand,” Niinistö said. “It would be good to turn this the other way around.”
In a statement released by President Niinistö on Saturday evening regarding the terror attack, he said that “it’s understandable that someone supports immigration and another person is objecting it. But if we build hatred because of that, we weaken our ability to prevent evil.”
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Niinistö was asked how we could fight terrorism in Finland. One way, according to Niinistö, is to hurry the amendment of the intelligence law, where the Finnish Security Intelligence Service would get broader powers to intercept communication on the internet and abroad between persons that could be linked to terrorism even if a crime is not suspected. “In these matters, we must now act fast.”
Niinistö also recommended people to observe each other in communities. It could help, if someone notices a member of the community becoming isolated or if the person’s behavior is raising concern in other ways.
Niinistö was asked where he was when the terror attack began. “I was in Kultaranta (president’s official summer residence in Naantali, located about 16 kilometers from Turku),” Niinistö said. “I was writing a speech when our security system started sending messages only a few minutes after the incident began.”
Niinistö took a hurried, deep breath.
“That speech is still unwritten.”