HELSINKI — A suspect detained for allegedly stabbing two people to death in a knife attack in the western Finnish city of Turku is being investigated for murder with possible terrorist intent, police said Saturday.
It appeared that the man — an 18-year-old Moroccan asylum-seeker — targeted women in particular in his rampage in two public squares, said Crista Granroth of the National Bureau of Investigation.
"We think the attacker was going after women," Granroth said, adding that one man was wounded with a knife slash when he tried to stand between the attacker and a woman.
Victims were Finnish citizens
The suspect had yet to be questioned, while four others, also Moroccans living in Turku who know him, were detained on suspicion of involvement.
The dead from the apparent indiscriminate attack on Friday are Finnish citizens, while the eight wounded include one Italian, one Briton and one Swede.
Police said the suspect, whose name has not been released, was subdued with a shot in the thigh and that he is hospitalized under guard. Investigators say he came to Finland in early 2016 seeking asylum.
Police said they were working with colleagues from law enforcement abroad. The NBI said others involved in the investigation were the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, police in Turku and the European Union's police agency, Europol. Lardot said Europol was helping to check whether there are connections to the events in Barcelona but refused to elaborate.
It was not known if the attack was linked to the decision in June by the Finnish Security Intelligence Service to raise its threat assessment to the second level of a four-step scale. At the time, it cited the Nordic country's "stronger profile within the radical Islamist propaganda." Finland was now considered part of the coalition against the Islamic State group, it said.
Three of those wounded were still in intensive care. Four remained at the hospital and four had been released. The youngest victim was 15, the oldest 67, police said.
We need to stick together now, hate is not to be answered by hate.Prime Minister Juha Sipila, Finnish Prime Minister
A man who had been visiting from neighbouring Sweden said he was stabbed in the arm and tried to help another victim who died.
"I tried to stop the violent bleeding from her throat ... The woman was so badly injured that she died in my arms," Hassan Zubier told the Expressen tabloid.
Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat said one of the dead was a woman belonging to the local chapter of Jehovah's Witnesses who was handing out leaflets at a central Turku square. A spokesperson for the religious group told the tabloid they believed the woman was randomly attacked. It was not immediately clear if she was the same woman helped by Zubier.
Flowers and candles were placed on a square in Turku, and Finnish flags flew at half-staff across the country.
"We need to stick together now, hate is not to be answered by hate," Prime Minister Juha Sipila said in a tweet.
His office said the government was planning a news conference Saturday at 1300 GMT.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, wrote on Twitter that "Europeans stand with #Turku@ and called it "another cowardly terrorist attack on innocents."