The calm of Iceland, considered “the most peaceful country in the world”, has long been shaken by a series of shootings and stabbings involving criminal gangs.
This country of just 375,000 people is more used to reading about murders in its famous Icelandic novels than the morning papers.
“For Icelanders, the weapon symbolizes sport“Or hunting,” explains sociologist Helge Gunnlaugsson.
“It is very strange to Icelandic minds for one to use a weapon to protect oneself or to point at people.He told AFP.
Iceland has topped the Global Peace Index rankings since 2008 thanks to its low crime rates, strong education and social welfare systems, fair wages, and a lack of class tensions.
Only four people have been shot and killed in more than two decades. But there have been four shootings in just over a year, including one fatal. In February 2021, a man was shot and killed in a hail of bullets outside his home in a neighborhood of the capital, Reykjavik, a murder that shocked the nation.
Police said the killing was linked to organized crime.
“Icelandic criminal groups are increasingly organized‘ said criminologist Margrethe Waldemarsdottir.
“They have more links with international groups than we’ve seen before, which can challenge our police forces“.
In February, two separate drug-related shootings occurred in Reykjavik two days apart, one in the city center.
Gang violence is similar to what has already been seen in other parts of Europe.
“It takes five to ten years for a trend to emerge in Europe in Icelandsaid Ronolfur Thorhalsson, who oversees Iceland’s elite police unit, known as the Viking Squad.
“Of course this is a concern for us“.
Iceland is one of the few countries in the world where the police are unarmed in their daily duties.
However, patrol cars have been equipped with handguns in special lockers since late 2015, following the bloody attacks by far-right Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in 2011.
Only a few policemen – the Vikings squad – are permanently armed with semi-automatic weapons as well as flak jackets and ballistic shields.
The squad helps police when reporting guns, with the number of such incidents increasing sixfold since 2014.
“We see indications that perhaps in this criminal world people are less reluctant to use weapons. We’re seeing more knives than gunsMr. Thorhalson said.
If he does not have an explanation for the increased violence, the Minister of the Interior plans to equip the police with electro-shock weapons.
Police union leader Fjolnir Saemundsson welcomed the idea but called for more recruitment and training.
With 682 police officers in 2021, Iceland has one of the smallest police forces in Europe relative to its population, second only to Finland and almost half the European average, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat.
Studlar is a government-run juvenile treatment center for children ages 12-18 that helps troubled youth with issues ranging from drugs to crime to behavioral issues.
Director Fonnie Sigurdsson said he has seen a slight increase in violent incidents, as the center confiscated an increasing number of knives.
For some young people, he said, it was often clear “by the age of six that they would end up here”.
“If we had intervened at the time, we might have been able to prevent them from finding themselves in this situation.“
Many of the people involved in settling scores between gangs came through the center when they were minors.
While the rise in violent crime has raised concerns, the situation is not alarming, experts insist.
“It is important to note that Iceland is still a country with a very low crime rateMrs. Waldemarsdottir said.