Court frees Kankaanpää neo-Nazi suspects

The far-right group members are still suspected of terrorist offences.

File photo of Satakunta District Court. Image: Tapio Termonen / Yle

Satakunta District Court has ordered the release of four suspects believed to be members of a far-right terror cell in the town of Kankaanpää in southwest Finland.

A fifth suspect was previously released last month.

The five men, aged 23-26, were detained in December on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, marking the first time such charges have ever been filed against a far-right group in Finland.

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, but were released from pre-trial detention during the spring of 2020.

An Yle investigation revealed an extensive list of confirmed and suspected 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.

However, Satakunta District Court cited Chapter 2, Section 8 of Finland's Coercive Measures Act as the reason behind the decision to release the suspects.

The section states that:

"A person arrested or remanded for an offence and released may not be rearrested for the same offence on the basis of a circumstance of which the authority was aware when deciding on arrest or remand."

In its ruling delivered on Wednesday, the district court stated that investigators have not put forward any new evidence in support of the application to continue the detention of the suspects.

However, the men are still suspected of committing crimes and therefore the case files will remain secret.

Release of suspects "surprised" investigators

Police had demanded that the suspects remain in pre-trial detention, arguing in court that there were sufficient grounds for keeping the men in custody as they may seek to obstruct the course of justice after their release.

The court however rejected the police's argument.

"I am surprised that this was the decision," Detective Inspector Toni Sjöblom, who is leading the investigation, told Yle.

"The preliminary investigation will continue under the same headings [charges]. It will not be affected by the court's decision," he said.

However, Sjöblom added that the pre-trial probe may be slowed down by the court's decision as the suspects have not yet been fully interviewed by investigators.

The release of the suspects may make it more difficult to conduct follow-up interviews.

According to Sjöblom, police still aim to complete the preliminary investigation by the end of March. However, an actual deadline no longer exists as the suspects have been released from pre-trial detention.