Bomber among dead in Finnish mall

Oct. 12, 2002 at 2:44 PM

VANTAA, Finland, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- A Finnish student who is among the seven dead after a powerful explosion ripped through a busy shopping center outside Helsinki appears to be the one responsible, police in the Finnish capital said Saturday.

Authorities revealed earlier in the day that evidence so far points to a bomb -- and indeed one that appeared built to inflict maximum damage on its victims. At a Saturday afternoon press conference, police were reluctant to discuss details of the case but indicated several of the more than 60 wounded were operated on for the removal of pellets as well as fragments of shrapnel, according to the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat.

The student, whom police would not identify, is a male of about 20 years of age and has no criminal record. The police chief of Vantaa, the northern Helsinki suburb where the 130-store mall was located, would not comment either on a possible motive and whether the man acted alone.

The mall was filled with some 1,000 shoppers and family members at about 7:35 p.m. local time Friday, when the bomb went off. A circus clown was reportedly performing for children and their parents. After the ear-numbing blast, witnesses described a chaotic scene of building debris, broken and tattered merchandise, glass from the mall's skylight roof and cries of the wounded.

"This is the largest civilian disaster to affect the greater Helsinki area since the (second world) war," Interior Minister Ville Itala told reporters Saturday morning. "The number of victims shows how terrible and what a disgraceful thing this is."

A memorial service for the victims was packed Saturday afternoon. Itala, President Tarja Halonen and other ministers reportedly attended as well as members of a local skating club. One club member was killed in the attack, and another member was wounded.

In a country that in recent years averages about 3 homicides per 100,000 citizens, or about 150 per year, such a deliberate and destructive act has left the population shocked. The last bombing, an apparent and virtually unprecedented gang-related attack, killed a man in his car in downtown Helsinki earlier this year and also brought international attention.

"But this incident, and the massive human damage caused, is on a completely different plane," said the international edition of Helsingin Sanomat.

Indeed, early on, investigators believed an accident such as exploding gas containers may have caused the blast, but examination of victims quickly pointed toward a bomb.

Five people, including the bomber, were killed instantly and two more died after they arrived at the hospital. Three remained in critical condition on Saturday.

Police Chief Seppo Kujala told reporters Saturday afternoon that DNA testing may yet yield further clues in the case. According to a statement from Itala's Ministry office, Finland's National Bureau of Investigation was in charge of the inquiry into the incident.

Kujala also responded firmly to criticism that medical personnel lagged in their response time, saying ambulances and police vehicles bagan to arrive within five minutes of the blast and all the wounded were on their way to the hospital in less than an hour.

Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen called the blast unprecedented in the Finnish experience and "an act of terror."

The mall in Vantaa, a suburb some 10 miles north of the capital, has 138 shops and restaurants. It was opened in 1994 and is run by Citycon, a Finnish property company.

Witness Jami Koskimaka, said: "It was not a small explosion. The floor was shaking."

Antonia Kohl-Makkonen, another witness, said: "We were just talking that you should never go shopping on a day like this because of the peak hour.

"Suddenly an enormous bang was heard, actually an explosion and we thought that was a bomb. We left straight away, the situation was chaotic."

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