Helsinki bomb was 'act of terror'

2002-10-12 15:48

Helsinki - Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said Saturday that a bomb blast at a suburban Helsinki shopping centre that killed seven people and injured more than 80 was an "act of terror".

"It was an act of terror as it was," he told reporters, adding: "It is too early to say whether it was a terrorist organisation or a single person acting."

According to Lipponen's spokesperson Mikko Norros, the government did not believe a foreign terrorist organisation was responsible for the bomb, but rather a deranged individual or an organised crime group.

The explosion occurred early Friday evening on the ground floor of an atrium just inside the main entrance of a mall located in the Myyrmaeki suburb in the city of Vantaa, 12 kilometers (seven miles) north of Helsinki.

Lipponen told public broadcaster YLE the blast was caused by a "bomb (that) was built to cause maximum damage."

He added that Finnish security police were taking part in the investigation, but declined to give any further details.

Officials from the National Bureau of Investigation had earlier said the blast was caused by explosives and was being investigated as an intentional criminal act.

"On the basis of the technical investigation and the first comments from eyewitnesses, there is every reason to believe it was a crime," said Jari Liukku, a chief constable with the bureau.

"The bomb was of a size which could be taken to the shopping mall without anybody noticing it," he said.

According to one eyewitness, the scene after the blast "looked like some terror act in the Middle East."

Between 1 000 to 2 000 people were in the mall when the explosion happened, a mall official said.

Directly after speaking to reporters, Lipponen and his government went into an emergency crisis meeting, where they were to be briefed on the situation by the National Bureau of Investigation.

"Nothing like this has ever happened in Finland. I hope it was a single act, but if it was organised criminals, this is really serious," Lipponen said.

Six people were initially reported dead in the blast, including a child, but a 37-year-old woman died of her injuries early Saturday, bringing the number of dead to seven.

Officials said the toll could rise further.

According to a surgeon treating the injured, three people remained in "very critical condition" on Saturday.

"The injuries we see are typical for a mechanical explosion, with fractures, soft tissue damage, a lot of blood loss," Markku Torkki, head surgeon at Helsinki University Hospital, told AFP.

Eero Hirvensalo, head of Toeoeloe hospital, said: "It looks like a shrapnel bomb, an explosion that was intended to hurt as many people as possible."

One of the bodies remained unidentified on Saturday, and police were asking the public for help in identifying the man. They declined to comment on whether they believed him to be the perpetrator or not.

According to one local media report, the attack may have been a suicide bombing, with the bomber being a Finn who was seen putting the bomb on the ground.

Officials however declined to confirm this report, and while police issued a detailed description of what the man was wearing and his size, they declined to describe his ethnic background.

The area surrounding the mall is a popular residential area for immigrants, officials said.

While the majority of the injured where Finns, a number of the people taken to hospitals were "foreign looking", possibly from the Middle East, rescue officials told AFP.

The explosion has shocked the Nordic nation.

"We have had some accidents in Finland since the Second World War, but nothing like this has ever happened before," Interior Minister Ville Itaelae told AFP, adding that the thought that this was "an intentional act is just shocking."

Officials were to study video tapes from surveillance cameras for clues, they said. - Sapa-AFP