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Finland's safety investigators recommend measures to prevent radicalisation of asylum seekers

A team from the Safety Investigation Authority has completed a report on the deadly knife attack in Turku and how Finland could prevent similar incidents.

Turun torilla muistokynttilöitä.
File photo of a makeshift memorial on the site of last summer's knife attack in Turku. Image: Päivi Happonen / Yle

Abderrahman Bouanane, a Moroccan national in his early 20s, faces charges of murder and attempted murder with terrorist intent for causing the deaths of two women and injuring eight others in an attack in downtown Turku last August. A verdict in the case is expected to be reached on Friday.

The Safety Investigation Authority's team, which was asked to look into the matter by the government in October last year, examined possible reasons for the attack, the incidents surrounding the attack itself, as well as how rescue and other officials responded to the situation.

The team submitted its findings to Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen on Thursday, in a report containing several measures the group said Finland should consider implementing to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Reduce asylum decision processing time

Among its recommendations, the group said that the Finnish Immigration Service Migri should significantly speed up the asylum decision and ensuing legal process from the current average processing times of 18 months.

The group said that asylum application processing times should be expedited to the full extent that the law permits, and if the asylum applicant is considered a security risk.

The group said that a negative asylum decision which is handed out quickly is often better for the applicant than a long, drawn out period of uncertainty.

The process of getting asylum applicants integrated and engaged in society is hampered during the application waiting period, the report stated, and the risk of applicants becoming involved in extremist activity is heightened during that time.

Need for better ID, age checks

The group also called on the Immigration Service to utilise all tools at its disposal to improve the agency's ability to determine the ages and identities of asylum seekers.

The investigative group noted that Bouanane, the suspect in the Turku killings, had given a false name and age when he arrived in Finland. His actual identity and date of birth were not clear to local officials before the attack on August 18.

The group also said a resource agency should be established - within a government agency or set up by a third party - which can assist asylum seekers with questions and problems regarding their cases.

The resource agency should have close contact with police officials, religious groups and other agencies and organisations offering help in matters of asylum applications.

Police received tip before attack

The group noted that Bouanane's inner circle of friends or acquaintances had noticed some six months before the attack that he had become interested in radical Islamic ideas and propaganda from the extremist group Islamic State .

The report said that identifying radicalised people who have not yet committed a crime occurs most often by way of acquaintances and friends, and said that asylum seekers are a group that are at particular risk for becoming radicalised.

The only concrete information after the attack which officials had about Bouanane's possible radicalisation was a single tip sent to local police in January 2017.

However, even though the tip was forwarded by police to the National Bureau of Investigation and the Security Intelligence Service, officials were unable to prevent the attack, the report points out.

The group also recommended further measures to reduce radicalisation of asylum seekers, to improve communication between governmental agencies as well as to boost support for violence victims and their relatives.

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