Acquitted in Landmark Domestic Terrorism Case

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Reykjavík District Court has convicted Sindri Snær Birgisson and Ísidór Nathansson for violating weapons law, but acquitted them of attempted terrorism, RÚV reports. It is the very first court ruling in Iceland in a terrorism-related case. The defence calls the ruling a condemnation of the prosecution and the National Police Commissioner, who they assert took the case too far from the start.

Hoarded weapons and planned attack

In September 2022, four Icelandic men were arrested in Iceland on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts against public institutions and civilians. The investigation was the first of its kind in Iceland, with 50 police officers taking part. According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. In private messages, two of the men had reportedly discussed carrying out an attack.

Two of the suspects were immediately released but the other two, Sindri Snær Birgisson and Ísidór Nathansson, were remanded in custody. The initial case was dismissed by the District Court in February 2023. A new 64-count indictment was presented in June and also dismissed by the district judge. The District Prosecutor appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals, demanding that the case proceed to substantive trial. The Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal on October 23 last year.

Receive sentences for weapons offences

The hearing in the case finally took place last February, and both defendants denied the main charges. The District Court has just published its judgement in the case, acquitting Sindri Snær Birgisson of attempted terrorism and Ísidór Nathansson of being a party to attempted terrorism. Sindri Snær received a 24-month sentence for weapons offences, minus the time he has already spent in custody, while Ísidór received an 18-month sentence.

Inspector says police were right to intervene

Einar Oddur Sigurðsson, Ísidor’s defence attorney, stated it was a huge relief that the defendants had been cleared of allegations of intended terrorism. Sindri Snær’s attorney Sveinn Andri Sveinsson, admitted, however, that Sindri Snær’s weapons violation was an unusually serious offence. The two said that the judgement is a condemnation of how Icelandic police and the Icelandic justice system handled the case.

During his testimony, Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson outlined the National Police Commissioner’s involvement in the case. He affirmed that it was his assessment at the time, and remains his view today, that the police were correct to intervene.

The prosecutor has not yet stated whether the judgement will be appealed.

In Focus: Prisons in Iceland

litla hraun prison iceland

On September 25, 2023, Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir announced a series of reforms to Iceland’s prisons. They included increasing the number of rooms in women’s prison Sogn from 21 to 35 and revisions to the Enforcement Act. The biggest news, however, was that the country’s largest prison, Litla-Hraun, would be replaced with new facilities, projected […]

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Reports of Sexual Violence Decreased by 15% in Iceland

police station Hlemmur

The number of reported incidents of sexual violence in Iceland has decreased significantly, according to a newly-published report from the National Police Commissioner’s Office. In 2023, a total of 521 offences were reported to police, a decrease of 15% compared to the average over the last three years. About 45% of victims were children.

Sexual offences against children decrease

There have not been so few reports of sexual offences to police in Iceland since 2017. In 2018, 570 sexual offences were reported, an increase of 18% from the previous year. Over 600 offences were reported in 2019, 2021, and 2022. The number of reports of rape and sexual violence against children decreased significantly last year, according to the report, while reports of rape decreased by 13% compared to the average over the previous three years.

While reports of child abuse increased by 21% compared to the three-year average, reports of sexual offences against children decreased by 20%.

Only 10.3% of victims report to police

In the 2019-2023 Law Enforcement Plan, Icelandic Police have made it a goal to decrease the rate of sexual violence while increasing the rate of reporting. In a victim survey conducted in 2023 which asked about respondents’ experiences from the year 2022, 1.9% stated they had been sexually assaulted and only 10.3% of those victims had reported the incidents to police.

Survivors call for shorter processing times and harsher sentences

Those who do report sexual abuse in Iceland have complained of long processing times: sexual assault cases take around two years to go through the justice system in Iceland. A new organised interest group for sexual abuse survivors was established in Iceland last year with the aim of improving survivors’ legal standing. The group has called for shortening case processing times for sexual offences as well as less lenient sentencing for perpetrators.

Help and support through 112

Sexual violence and abuse in Iceland can always be reported via the emergency phone line 112 or on the 112 webchat. The 112 website has extensive information on how to recognise abuse and ways to get help and support in Iceland. Support is available to all, regardless of immigration or legal status in Iceland.

Icelandic Police Bill to Boost Surveillance Powers

police station reykjavík

Icelandic police would be given increased powers of surveillance if a bill proposed by Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir is passed. RÚV reports that Guðrún introduced the bill in Parliament yesterday. Opposition MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir believes the power the bill grants police is too extensive.

The aim of the bill is to strengthen the police’s ability to respond to organised crime and to give it the authority to monitor individuals who have not committed a crime. To have this authority, there must be a suspicion that an individual is connected to criminal organisations and could potentially commit a serious offence.

The bill would grant police the right to carry out such surveillance in public places, but not within private homes. The police would not need a court order to carry out such surveillance, although a special steering group that includes police officials would have to approve the measure.  The Minister of Justice stated that the bill would bring Icelandic legislation closer to legislation in other Nordic countries.

No independent supervision of police

Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir criticised the bill for not including any independent supervision of police and the use of this surveillance permission. “What is being done here is that the police are being given authority to monitor ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong and even without any suspicion that the person has done anything wrong,” she stated. The Minister of Justice stated that the bill also includes increased supervision of police through establishing a monitoring group for police work and regular reports on the matter to Parliament.

Read More: Police Powers in Iceland

The Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of the Independence Party, has been pushing for increased police powers for some time. In 2022, then Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson introduced a crime bill with similar measures to the bill Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir introduced yesterday. It was criticised by the Icelandic Bar Association as well as opposition MPs.

“There are, of course, some conditions in the bill, but it gives the police authority to monitor people’s movements without they themselves being under suspicion of criminal conduct, whether or not they have committed a crime or are preparing to commit a crime,” Sigurður Örn Hilmarsson, the chairman of the Icelandic Bar Association, stated at the time. He suggested that establishing a dedicated organisation such as an intelligence service would be a better way of investigating the most serious crimes, such as terrorism or organised crime.

Icelander Wanted by Interpol in Cocaine Case

Pétur Jökull Jónasson, wanted by Interpol

Interpol has posted a wanted person notice for Icelander Pétur Jökull Jónasson. He is suspected of attempting to smuggle 99.25 kilos of cocaine from Brazil to Iceland. The Reykjavík Metropolitan Police asked Interpol to post the notice, RÚV reports.

Largest cocaine case in Iceland’s history

The case Pétur Jökull is suspected of being involved with was deemed Iceland’s largest ever cocaine case and tried in Icelandic courts last year. Four defendants were sentenced to six to ten years in prison. The cocaine was discovered in the Netherlands after a tip from Icelandic law enforcement and hidden in tree trunks en route from Brazil to Iceland. An attorney for one of the defendants claimed that they were only pawns in a large chain.

Grímur Grímsson, chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police, confirmed that Pétur Jökull is suspected of involvement, but did not go into detail. No other people are suspected in the case.

A long track record

Pétur Jökull has been convicted three times by Icelandic courts. He was sentenced to pay a fine in 2007 for possession of illegal drugs. In 2010, he was sentenced to three years in prison for smuggling 1.6 kilos of cocaine from Spain to Iceland. A year later he received a five month sentence for robbery.

Pétur Jökull was also the keyboard player for the short-lived pop band Dr. Mister & Mr. Handsome.

More Measures Against Human Trafficking Needed in Iceland

Icelandic authorities should take more steps to tackle human trafficking according to a new report. These measures include improving the identification of victims, stepping up investigations and protections, and ensuringe that victims are not forcibly returned to countries where they risk being re-trafficked. These are the conclusions of a newly-published report from the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) on human trafficking victims’ access to justice and effective remedies in Iceland.

This is GRETA’s third evaluation report on Iceland and assesses the developments since its second report was published in 2019. GRETA welcomes the progress Iceland has made in tackling human trafficking in several areas, including the amendment of the provision criminalising human trafficking, the adoption of the third National Action Plan for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, and the setting up of a police advisory group on human trafficking.

Should pay increased attention to asylum seekers

However, GRETA also “urges Iceland to take further steps to improve the identification of victims of trafficking by setting up a formalised National Referral Mechanism which defines the procedures and roles of all frontline actors who may come into contact with victims of trafficking,” according to a press release. “The authorities should pay increased attention to the identification of victims of trafficking among asylum seekers and ensure that victims are not forcibly returned to countries where they risk being re-trafficked.”

New legislation strips asylum seekers of services

New legislation on immigration passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring states that asylum seekers whose asylum applications have received a final rejection will be stripped of essential services unless they consent to deportation. As a result, dozens of asylum seekers unable to leave Iceland for reasons personal or political are being stripped of housing and services, leaving many of them on the streets. Authorities disagree about who is responsible for providing for the group’s basic needs.

One asylum seeker impacted by the legislation is Blessing Newton, who came to Iceland five years ago to escape sex trafficking in Italy. Her spokespeople say that she is at risk of becoming a victim of sex trafficking again if she is deported from Iceland.

GRETA’s full report on Iceland’s combating of human trafficking is available online.

Prosecution Seeks 8 Year Sentence in Bankastræti Case

Judge's gavel

Morgunblaðið reports that the prosecution in the Bankastræti Club case is seeking a minimum sentence of 8 years in prison for Alexander Máni Björnsson due to a knife attack on three victims at Bankastræti Club. The prosecution argues that there is sufficient evidence to claim that there was an attempted murder in this case, though none of the victims suffered fatal injuries.

The prosecution has cited the suspect’s use of excessive force, violation of probation, and lack of remorse for the long sentence, pointing out that some of the victims are still dealing with the consequences of the attack.

The case, which is one of the largest criminal cases in Icelandic history, features a total of 25 defendants. 10 are charged with serious bodily harm, and 14 are charged with complicity in the attack. Legal precedent for such charges shows a maximum of 20 months in prison for serious bodily harm.

Defendant Withdrew Confession

Earlier today, the defendant Alexander withdrew his confession in one of the stabbing cases at the nightclub.

His withdrawn confession pertains to the attack on one of the victims, where an artery was severed due to a stab wound in the thigh. Medical experts assessed that the attack had been life-threatening.

He now admits to fewer charges than before. The withdrawal happened just before the prosecution and defence were scheduled to begin their case presentation, and caused considerable confusion.

The presiding judge expressed serious concerns about this decision by the defendant and his attorney, stating that it showed disrespect for the court and disrespect for other legal professionals involved in the proceedings.  Additionally, the defence attorneys of the other individuals involved in the attack had built their defence on his admissions.

The judge has summoned the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney for a meeting to discuss the matter.

Deep North Episode 45: Borrowed Crime

icelandic true crime

On May 26, 1982, sisters Yvette and Marie Luce Bahuaud arrived in Iceland from France. On August 15, after nearly three months of travelling, they came to the town of Djúpivogur in East Iceland. Having spent the night at a hotel, they planned to hitchhike to Skaftafell, a preservation area just south of the Vatnajökull glacier, which had become a national park in 1957. Their murder that night has proved to be one of the stranger episodes in Icelandic history, and we consider this tragic event in the wider context of the ever-growing true crime genre.

Read the story here.

Bankastræti Hearing Begins in Banquet Hall

Judge's gavel

A hearing involving 25 defendants, most in their twenties, began yesterday in Reykjavík, though not in a traditional courtroom. As the District Court of Reykjavík did not have a courtroom large enough to accommodate the number of people involved in the case, an alternative venue needed to be found. The court eventually settled on a banquet hall in the suburban neighbourhood of Grafarvogur, which was then adapted to the purposes of the hearing, though not without issues.

25 attackers, three victims

The hearing centres on a knife attack at Bankastræti Club in downtown Reykjavík in November 2022 when a group of masked men barged into the nightclub in November of last year and attacked three men. Twenty-five people have been charged in the case: one for attempted murder, ten for “specially dangerous assault,” and the other fourteen for participating in the attack. The three victims sustained stab wounds and other injuries.

Banquet hall turned courtroom

“I don’t remember that there have been so many defendants and defence attorneys and other witnesses gathered in one place in a court case in Iceland,” defence attorney Ómar R. Valdimarsson told RÚV reporters at the banquet hall yesterday.

“We know this hall well because we’ve come here for confirmation parties and wedding parties. So it’s a bit of a different atmosphere,” stated Jón Þór Ólason, a defence attorney for one of the defendants.

Coffee shortage ruffles lawyers

Attorneys have criticised the unusual location and its constraints. Among other things, lawyers complained that there was no coffee available at the location. Some headed to a nearby KFC to satisfy their caffeine cravings while others resorted to purchasing energy drinks from a shop at the location. After a recess, Judge Sigríður Hjaltested who is overseeing the hearing stated that the coffee issue would hopefully be resolved by the following day.

Reykjavík District Court Judge Ingibjörg Þorsteinsdóttir stated the banquet hall was chosen for the hearing as it “turned out to be the room that would be the simplest to convert into a courtroom and for the least amount of money, although it still costs a lot.”

At the beginning of yesterday’s session, Judge Sigríður Hjaltested announced that the media would not be permitted to report on the contents of the hearing just yet, but the ban would probably be lifted on Thursday.

New Prison to Replace Litla-Hraun

prison

A new prison will be built to replace the largest prison in Iceland, Litla-Hraun, RÚV reports. Construction of the new facilities is expected to cost ISK 7 billion [$51.2 million, €48.1 million]. In the coming months, the number of rooms in women’s prison Sogn will also be increased from 21 to 35.

Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir announced major prison reforms at a press conference at Litla-Hraun this morning. They include not only the construction of a new prison but also an increase in the number of cells, and a revision of the Enforcement Act.

New prison pending and repairs to Litla-Hraun

A detailed inspection of the facilities at Litla-Hraun revealed that it would be cheaper to build a new prison than to make the necessary repairs to Litla-Hraun. A new prison will be built on state-owned land to the east of the current Litla-Hraun facilities.

According to Guðrún, however, Litla-Hraun will not be shut down, “but the days of Litla-Hraun as we know them today are over, fortunately, I would say.” ISK 2 billion [$14.6 million, €] has been secured from the state treasury to repair the current facilities. It is not clear whether some or all of the current facilities will be torn down.

Women face worse conditions in prison

A recent report concluded that women’s conditions in Icelandic prisons were worse than men’s. With the expansion of Sogn, their situation will be improved, the Minister of Justice stated. The expansion at Sogn is expected to cost ISK 350 million [$2.6 million, €2.4 million].

Preparations to begin immediately

Preparations for the construction of a new prison will begin immediately, the Minister stated. “Now I trust the Government Property Agency to resolve everything quickly and well.” Emphasis will be placed on building a modern prison that ensures the safety of both prisoners and staff, and not least on improving the conditions of families, especially children.

Litla-Hraun will continue to be solely a prison for men. Guðrún stated that there are more women in prison in Iceland than ever before, the majority serving at Hólmsheiði. However, the decision has been made to increase the number of rooms at Sogn, an open prison for women, rather than Hólmsheiði, a closed detention centre like Litla-Hraun.