Iceland: ‘the most peaceful country in the world’ shaken by multiple shootings and stabbing attacks

Several shootings and stabbing attacks have alarmed Iceland, a small northern country of 375,000 people that has been known as the “most peaceful country in the world” for several months. According to the police, the incidents are linked to criminal gangs.

At the top of the Global Peace Index since its inclusion in the rankings in 2008, Iceland is more accustomed to crime stories in its blockbuster films than to headlines.

“The Icelanders’ firearm symbolizes sport or hunting,” sociologist Helge Gunlaugsson told AFP.

“But in the collective mind, it’s very strange to use a weapon to protect yourself or target someone.”

organized crime

Only four gun murders have occurred in Iceland since 2000…but in just over a year, the country has been the scene of four shootings, including one.

Icelanders were shocked, in February 2021, by the assassination of a man who was shot with nine bullets outside his home in a residential area of ​​Reykjavik. A murder linked to “organized crime,” according to police.

“Criminal groups in Iceland are increasingly organized,” said criminologist Margrethe Waldemarsdottir. “They have more relationships with international groups than we’ve seen before, which can be a challenge to our police forces.”

In February, two disputes between individuals who had already been convicted for drug smuggling ended in a shooting in the center of the capital. “Of course we are concerned about that,” admits Ronolfur Thorhalsson, commissioner of the elite unit of the Icelandic police.

Rearming the police?

Iceland is one of the few countries in the world where the police do not carry weapons in the performance of their official duties. If the arming of all the forces of the regime in the country is not seriously considered, the Ministry of the Interior plans to provide the police with electro-shock weapons.

Only a limited number of police officers from the elite unit, the Vikings squad, are permanently equipped: flak jackets, semi-automatic weapons or even ballistic armor. Introduced in 1982, it assists the National Police when weapons are reported. The number of his interventions has doubled by about six since 2014.

Since the end of 2015, service cars have also been equipped with handguns in special safes, a measure taken after the attacks in Oslo and Otoya in 2011. “We are seeing a trend where individuals in our criminal world are less hesitant to use weapons, more with knives in fact than with firearms,” notes Mr. Thórhallsson.

With 682 police officers in 2021, Iceland has the relatively lowest numbers in Europe after Finland, according to Eurostat, with a level nearly double the European average.

relieve anxiety

Studlar, a government institution located on the outskirts of Reykjavik, takes care of children and adolescents aged 12-18 with difficulties – drug problems, criminality, serious behavioral problems …

Its manager, Fonny Sigurdsson, says he’s also noticed a slight rise in violent incidents. For this 43-year-old father, with “some kids who come into this establishment, you can see from the age of six that they’re going to end up here.”

Several individuals recently involved in the settling of accounts were also through his foundation. But if the situation is worrying in a country unaccustomed to violence, then it is not alarming, experts emphasize.

“It is important to note that Iceland is still a country with a very low crime rate,” Ms Waldemarsdottir feels. “But, at least according to the police, we are seeing more violent attacks in Iceland.”

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