Yle investigation: Kankaanpää neo-Nazi gang had history of intimidation, harassment, assaults

Five members of the far-right group were arrested by police in early December on suspicion of terrorist offences. One suspect has since been released from pre-trial detention.

Police released the above images on 3 December 2021. The item on the left was confiscated from the group by police. Image: Poliisin esitutkintapöytäkirja, kuvankäsittely: Ilkka Kemppinen / Yle

A group of young men clad in bomber jackets and combat boots have been a familiar sight around the town of Kankaanpää in southwest Finland for many years. The gang have also been known to openly display racist insignia, such as t-shirts with the text "White Pride".

Earlier this month, Satakunta District Court remanded five men, all aged between 23 and 26 years old and believed to be members of the group, on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack.

A subsequent Yle investigation has revealed an extensive list of crimes committed by members of the group, with interviewees reporting that the gang were known to harass, intimidate and even violently attack people in the town over the course of the past few years.

A number of these incidents involved victims from minority backgrounds, with Yle's sources revealing that their minority status was the very reason they were attacked by the group.

Yle has anonymised the names of the interviewees in this article to protect them from any reprisals. Their national and ethnic identities are also being withheld to further protect their safety.

Four of the group's members remain in pre-trial detention on suspicion of making preparations for a terror attack. A fifth member was released from police custody on 10 December, with law enforcement officials saying they saw no probable cause to suspect that he might commit a crime.

Police said they believe the suspects follow a far-right ideology influenced by accelerationist ideas.

This means they want to foment chaos in society in order to hasten the collapse of western societies, using extreme violence to pursue their aims. Accelerationist ideas have spread online and been cited by several mass killers in recent years.

Assault, September 2019

Two of the five suspects in the terrorism plot were previously convicted of involvement in a violent assault that took place in front of a bar called Majava in Kankaanpää in September 2019.

On that occasion, the far-right group noticed a person of minority background standing in front of the bar. According to Yle's sources, this person was enjoying a social evening with other students from the nearby Kankaanpää Art School.

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The sign for the Majava bar is still visible in the centre of the town, although the bar has now closed. Image: Tuomas Rimpiläinen / Yle

The neo-Nazi group members told police during the preliminary investigation into the case that the person of minority background verbally abused them. This person, however, told police that they were talking to someone about immigration, when the neo-Nazi group began berating them.

This soon turned into insults related to their minority background, they added. Thus provoked, this person told police that they struck one of the members of the neo-Nazi group in the face.

Two members of the group then retaliated, punching the person of minority background once or twice in the face so that they fell backwards into the street and lost consciousness. The duo then continued to kick the victim several times in the head and body while they lay unconscious in the street.

In court, the person of minority background admitted to throwing the first punch, was convicted of assault and received an income-linked, 50-day fine.

One of the two members of the neo-Nazi group denied he punched or kicked the victim while the other entered a plea of self-defence. However, the court convicted both of assault and sentenced them to three months in prison. In its ruling, the court said that the violent acts they committed were completely disproportionate to the preceding first punch and could not be seen as self-defence.

Constant harassment, provocation

According to the sources interviewed by Yle for this article, many people in Kankaanpää were aware of the members of the group from both their reputation and their appearance. Their behaviour is described by interviewees as well as in the criminals reports as aggressive and provocative.

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The scene in Kankaanpää where police believe a stabbing took place. Image: Poliisi

In another incident, members of the group were suspected of stabbing one person in Kankaanpää on the midsummer weekend of 2020. The victim in this incident is not believed to be from a minority background.

One witness to the incident told police they saw one of the members of the group carrying a knife, while the prosecutor in the case considered it clear that the victim had been stabbed.

However, the victim could not or did not want to tell police which member of the neo-Nazi group had stabbed them. Therefore, due to a lack of evidence, the prosecutor did not proceed with the case.

The five members of the group that were arrested on suspicion of planning the terror attack include two brothers born in 1996 and 1998, and their cousin, who was born in 1996. In addition, there are two other men among the five, both born in 1995.

There are also several other people on the outskirts of the group, at least one of whom has convictions for violent crimes as well as property-related offences.

Assault, December 2019

At the beginning of December 2019, a group of students from Kankaanpää Art School were spending the evening in the Majava bar.

The group of students included the person of minority background who had been beaten unconscious outside the bar in September 2019, as well as two other people from the same minority background.

During the evening, a group of young men wearing bomber jackets arrived at the bar. The student group identified at least one of them as having been involved in the September assault.

According to Yle's sources, the group of men began behaving aggressively towards the students and especially towards the representative of the minority group present.

The situation had escalated by the time the bar closed and, based on the account of one person belonging to a minority group interviewed by Yle, the neo-Nazi group began to insult the students with words related to their minority background.

Another witness, not connected to the student group, also confirmed the course of events to Yle.

One of the students, who was of the same background as the victim of the September assault, told Yle that he wanted to protect this person from any possible attack so began to accompany them home.

A preliminary investigation into the subsequent events is still ongoing, but Yle understands that a criminal report of three suspected assaults has been filed with police.

According to Yle's information, four members of the neo-Nazi group began following the two students as they made their way home and caught up with them on Paasikivenkatu, near the town's Linnanpuisto public park.

According to the criminal reports, the four men violently attacked the two students as well as a third person who arrived at the scene to help them. All of the victims suffered injuries that required hospital treatment.

At least one of the suspects in this attack is also a suspect in the terrorist case, Yle understands.

Assault, May Day 2021

Members of the group are also believed to have been involved in a violent incident that took place in Kankaanpää on May Day 2021.

At that time, a group of art school students had congregated at a restaurant on the outskirts of the town centre. This group again included the student who had been the victim of the September 2019 assault as well as the December 2019 attack.

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The scene of the incident on May Day 2021. Image: Tuomas Rimpiläinen / Yle

The students filmed a video of the ensuing incident, which Yle has also seen.

In the video, the neo-Nazi gang can be heard telling the students that they are not welcome in Kankaanpää.

A criminal report has also been filed in this case, relating to a suspected assault. At least one of the neo-Nazi gang is also suspected of involvement in the two other, previous assaults.

"Extensive" harassment of art school students

Detective Inspector Toni Sjöblom is leading the investigations into the assaults as well as the probe into the terrorism plot.

He told Yle that there are reasons to suspect the minority groups were specifically targeted in the incidents, but he was not willing to reveal the suspects in the cases.

Yle has also interviewed a number of current and former students of the art school, who reported that there has been extensive harassment or intolerance of art school students in Kankaanpää. Students collectively strive to take care of each other, and foreign exchange students in particular, they revealed.

The art school is part of Satakunta University of Applied Sciences (SAMK). SAMK's rector Jari Multisilta told Yle that the Art School itself has not been threatened in any way and the authorities have not been in contact with the institution either.

Multisilta added that he held an "information session" with students last week to dispel any rumours of a potential attack on the school.

First arrest in January 2020

In addition to the other criminal reports and court cases, one of the members of the neo-Nazi group is suspected of aggravated assault, which according to available information, took place in Kankaanpää on 6 October 2019.

Yle has not, however, been able to verify the details of the incident.

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Police released this image of weapons confiscated from the group. Image: Poliisi

Interviewees also told Yle that members of the group have been involved in other violent incidents in the town which have not been reported to police.

The five were arrested for the first time in January 2020 on suspicion of a felony firearms offence and an explosive offence, among other charges. The suspects were released from pre-trial detention during the spring of 2020.

They remained a familiar, regular sight in the town from the time of their release until the second half of this year, when interviewees told Yle they started to become less and less visible.