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Police: Helsinki assailant a founding member of neo-Nazi group

Police confirmed on that Monday the suspected assailant who turned himself in following the death of a man at a neo-Nazi demonstration is a founding member of the neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement and reportedly has a violent background. The case has spawned broad condemnation from the government and opposition leaders.

Ihmiset sytyttivät kynttilöitä ja toivat kukkia Helsingin Asema-aukiolle.
Members of the public set up a makeshift memorial for the 28 year-old victim of the attack. Image: Outi Kuitunen / Yle

A 28-year-old man received serious head injury after a verbal confrontation with demonstrators became violent. The victim was hospitalised for nearly a week. A day after he was released the man died from a brain aneurism.

According to police the alleged assailant turned himself in over the weekend, but would not disclose whether the suspect confessed to the assault. The incident is being investigated as a case of assault and involuntary manslaughter.

Lead investigator of the preliminary inquiry, Teemu Kruskopf said the suspect was a founding member of the Finnish Resistance Movement.

"The suspect has, in the police's view, been a major player in the Finnish Resistance Movement," Kruskopf said. "According to our information, he was one of the founders of the movement in 2008 in Oulu."

Newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported on Monday that the suspect had been convicted of several violent crimes in the past.

Police: "Victim died of a head injury"

"In our view the victim died of a head injury after being kicked," Kruskopf said.

Kruskopf told Yle that he interviewed the victim at the hospital right after the assault.

"The man told me that he had spit when he walked by the group of demonstrators who gathered by Helsinki Central Railway Station," Kruskopf said.

Kruskopf told Yle TV1's morning programme that the man had stopped in front of the demonstrators and that words were exchanged. After that the victim had begun to walk away from the group of demonstrators, he said.

One of the demonstrators left the group and chased after the man and kicked him in the chest, causing the victim to fall to the ground when he hit his head.

On Tuesday police will decide whether to recommend that the suspect be detained, which police said would be very likely.

PM and Foreign Minister condemn violent acts in Helsinki, Otanmäki

Writing in his blog Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä said that it is now important to throughly review the legality of organisations that embrace violence. He added that if necessary, the law would be revised.

The Centre Party chair also called for a review to determine whether or not Finnish legislation is up to date on intervening in hate-motivated speech and actions. He noted that discussions online and in social media tend to quickly get out of hand. The PM wrote that he condemned all forms of violence, racism and hate speech.

Sipilä extended condolences to the family and loved ones of the victim in the Helsinki incident, as well as the Finnish man who was killed, allegedly by asylum seekers, in Otanmäki in Kajaani two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister and Finns Party chair Timo Soini described the incidents that took place in Helsinki and Otanmäki as simply wrong. He also declared that violence is wrong, including the threat of violence.

"Human life is sacred to me, from the womb to the tomb," he wrote.

National Coalition Party chair: Ban violent extremist groups

Reacting to the incident, Finland's Minister of Finance - and former Minister of the Interior and current chair of the National Coalition Party - Petteri Orpo said he was very concerned about the situation in Finland.

Orpo said that he thinks violent extremist organisations should be banned, and said that he expects that the Ministry of the Interior will thoroughly look into the matter.

"If we can find ways to ban political organisations which use violence, I support it," Orpo said, adding that the idea of prohibiting violent organisations by law was already discussed by a previous government. However, he said that legal experts at the time were divided over how that would be possible.

Supo: Extreme organisations not a security threat

Orpo said that he considers extreme right-wing groups to be a threat to national security, but says that's not out of line with a comment made by the head of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, Supo.

When Yle asked Supo for comment about the assault, the agency declined.

Supo chief inspector Tuomas Portaankorva told Yle that Supo doesn’t consider right wing extremist groups in themselves to be a direct threat to state security.

Orpo said that the case of the assault at Helsinki's train station was a single incident, but ackowledged an underlying growth of extremist atttitudes in Finland. He said he is deeply concerned about the country.

"Now, if ever, we need patience and tolerance in Finland. The vast majority that rejects this [violence] must act together, with determination."

Opposition calls for action

For her part, chair of the opposition Left Alliance Li Andersson noted that one major problem is that the threat posed by violent groups in Finland has not been taken seriously enough.

She said that the legality of extremist organisations could be examined but says that there are already laws on the books that enable law enforcement to intervene in the activities of extremist groups.

Meanwhile Antti Rinne, chair of the largest opposition party the Social Democrats, called on Prime Minister Juha Sipilä to lead his administration  and ensure that it considers any legislative changes needed to address the situation.

He said that racist and extremist activity should not be tolerated in Finland. He suggested amending the criminal code to ban racist organised activity.

"If any party provides a breeding ground for this kind of activity [violent extremism] and does not clearly condemn it, that party carries a grave responsibility," Rinne declared.

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