Icelandic police arrested four men in their twenties this week who are suspected of plotting a terrorist attack on state institutions, possibly including the Icelandic parliament and police force. While the police managed to arrest the men before they could carry out their alleged plan, the incident has sparked a debate on whether the Icelandic police force is adequately equipped for responding to such incidents, and whether the legal framework they operate in is adequate. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated he collaborating with the National Police Commissioner to draft suggestions for reform within the police force.
Ordinary police officers unarmed
“We are considering publishing these suggestions this autumn,” Jón told Fréttablaðið. “The state of organised crime is more serious than people realise.” While Jón stated that increasing police weaponry could potentially be included in those suggestions, he added that does not mean arming ordinary law enforcement officers with firearms. Ordinary policemen in Iceland don’t carry guns on their person, although there is a gun stored in every police car. The special forces, which do carry firearms, are called out for incidents involving weapons, and their call-outs have increased in number recently.
Fjölnir Sæmundsson, chairman of the National Association of Police Officers (Landssamband lögreglumanna) stated that while the incident shocked police officers, he is not of the opinion that it indicates a need to arm ordinary police officers in Iceland. The incident does, however, demonstrate the necessity of collaborating with police departments abroad and perhaps reviewing regulations on the permissions Icelandic police have to monitor certain individuals, according to Fjölnir.
Asked whether Iceland, like other Nordic countries, is experiencing a rise in the activities of extremist alt-right groups, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir stated that the risk of crime connected to such groups is still considered low. Sigríður stated that the risk assessment for terrorist incidents would not be changed in light of this one incident.
Recent incidents involving weapons in Iceland contain one commonality: those involved are young, Icelandic males. Professor of Criminology Helgi Gunnlaugsson told Iceland Review he believes this should be studied. “It’s important to look at the ideology. These young Icelandic males think carrying these weapons around is important and they are prepared to use them. We need to study what’s happening with young males that are on the margins of society.”
Helgi suggested that within the Icelandic system, there is more emphasis on responding to crime instead of trying to prevent it. “You have the police, but it would also be helpful to have other types of agencies approaching troubled youth in a constructive way.”