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Wednesday's papers: Turku knife attacker's alternative target, gun permit reform and a key EU vote

Finland's papers on Wednesday talk about where Abderrahman Bouanane had originally planned to strike in Turku, a reform making it easier to obtain firearm licences, and a MEP vote on forest harvesting with long-term consequences for Finland.

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Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

This Wednesday, the newspaper Turun Sanomat out of southwest Turku takes another look at the plans of Abderrahman Bouanane, the main suspect in the vicious stabbings in the quiet coastal city that shocked the country last month.

TS says several sources have told the news agency Lännen Media that Bouanane apparently originally planned to attack a military base in Turku, but changed his mind at the last minute. He was believed to be an occupant of the Pansio asylum seeker reception centre, which is located just a few hundred metres from a Navy base. Some of the buildings on the base are located outside the fenced-off and secure command centre.

The National Bureau of Investigation's chief investigator Olli Töyräs and director Robin Lardot would not comment.

Lardot did say last Thursday that the Turku attacker had two other targets in mind. After his original plans fell through, Bouanane stabbed several innocent bystanders at the Turku Market Square on August 18, killing two women and wounding eight others before the police stopped him with a bullet to his leg.

The 22-year-old Moroccan is currently incarcerated. He has admitted to the stabbings, but denies that he committed them with terrorist intent. The other men who were detained at different junctures in association with the case have been released, but a search warrant is still out for Finnish citizen and Uzbekistan native Zuhriddin Rashidov. His parents say he went missing after departing for Dubai. 

Dismantling stricter firearm licensing requirements

The country's most popular daily, Helsingin Sanomat, continues this Wednesday with a story about firearm licences. Finland is now taking steps to streamline the process for licences, making visits in person to a local police department no longer necessary. Steps to toughen up the process that were put in place after school shootings in 2007 and 2008 are now being dismantled.

"People who are denied access to a firearm will not get one any easier in the future," Constable Seppo Sivula tells the paper, "But for people who meet the criteria, the permit process will become easier."

The changes will come into effect in two stages, first at the end of this year, and again in December 2018, when an electronic licensing option will be introduced. The reform will also discontinue an applicant suitability test that was put in place in 2011, after the tragedies in Jokela and Kauhajoki.

Permit seekers still have to demonstrate that they are regular recreational users of firearms in order to obtain a licence. Law-abiding hunters and outdoor and indoor shooting range customers won't be required to sit for an interview in the future, Sivula tells HS, but if they haven't been active for a while or are new to the sports, they will still require a face-to-face assessment session before a licence is granted.

The number of firearms permits in Finland has been falling steadily for years. Police statistics show that a 17 percent drop took place between 2010 and 2015, especially for handguns like pistols and revolvers.

Finland hopes for special treatment

And the tabloid Iltalehti covers a big vote today in the EU Parliament that will have a lasting effect on Finland's forest industry. MEPs in Strasbourg will decide on an amendment to a pending directive on greenhouse gas emission targets.

The December 2015 climate agreement in Paris binds 195 countries to limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius. The EU is now looking to enact legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Forests currently cover more than 42 percent of the EU land surface and have a huge potential for climate change mitigation through sequestration and storage of carbon dioxide.

Finland maintains that this potential is not compromised by the harvesting of the timber, as long as overall forest coverage is growing. There is a concern that EU restrictions on harvesting might harm Finland's forest industry, especially now that the promising market for biomass as an energy source is a key programme of Juha Sipilä's government.

Swedish People's Party MEP Nils Torvald has been the main backer of an amendment to the rule, which would also help Finland avoid emission fees, despite relatively high harvesting percentages.

"We should definitely increase wood construction and make sure that our forests continue to grow more than they are harvested," he says.

Not all the Finns in the European Parliament are on board, however. Green MEP Heidi Hautala has made it clear that she supports the Commission's original proposal. She says the forest sector's massive role in climate policies must be acknowledged and Finland must do its part in a united European effort to implement the Paris climate accord.

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