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.

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.

Drinking Water Pipe to Westman Islands Damaged Beyond Repair

Heimaey, Westman Islands

The pipe that transports drinking water to the Westman Islands has been damaged beyond repair. While the pipe is still fully functional, it could break at any moment, leaving Heimaey island’s 4,523 inhabitants without water. The pipe was damaged ten days ago when the trawler Huginn VE unintentionally dropped an anchor on it, which then got stuck on the pipe.

Pipe must be replaced

A notice from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management states that the damage to the pipe stretches across a 300-metre [980-foot] section. Underwater pictures taken to assess the damage show that the pipe has shifted significantly from its former location. “This situation makes the possibility of a temporary repair difficult,” the notice reads. “The only permanent solution is a new pipe.”

The National Police Commissioner and the Chief Superintendent of the Westman Islands have jointly declared a “danger phase” in effect for the Westman Islands due to the situation. Íris Róbertsdóttir, the local mayor, told RÚV that a response plan is in the works to lay down new piping, which she insists will need to be done by next summer at the latest.

Town will not be evacuated

For the time being, there is no need for Westman Islands residents to save or store water. The town’s water tanks store 5,000 tonnes of drinking water, which could last anywhere from several days to over a week if the water pipe does break fully. The local heating is also dependent on the water supply. Westman Islands’ Chief Superintendent Karl Gauti Hjaltason stated that if the damaged water pipe does break, the town would be able to continue heating homes and buildings for up to two weeks with its stored water.

If additional water is necessary, the current plan is to transport it to the Westman islands rather than evacuate residents. The town authorities are, however, reviewing evacuation plans.

Special Forces Respond to Knife Incident at Nightclub

police lögreglan

Special forces were twice deployed in the capital region Saturday night: first for a man with a replica gun, and then for a drunk man with a knife at a nightclub, Vísir reports. In a separate incident, a concealed knife was seized at a Mosfellsbær festival.

A busy night for law enforcement

It was a busy night for law enforcement in the capital region on Saturday night extending into early Sunday morning. The National Police Commissioner’s special unit (i.e. special forces) was deployed twice: first in response to a report of a man brandishing a pistol, and then due to another individual allegedly intimidating patrons with a knife outside a nightclub, Vísir reports.

The official police log covering the period from 5 PM Saturday to 5 AM Sunday reveals the series of events. Authorities were first alerted to the presence of a firearm visible through a window of a building in Reykjavík. Police and special forces were dispatched to the location, where they apprehended one individual in relation to the incident. Upon examination, the supposed firearm was determined to be an air gun, albeit an exact replica of a handgun. The matter is currently under investigation.

Subsequently, reports were received about a man appearing threatening and in possession of a knife outside a nightclub. Though the man was not actively using the knife in a threatening manner, he was carrying it. Police and special forces arrived at the scene, arresting the individual who was later found to be inebriated. He was detained and placed in a holding cell pending further investigation.

Knife seized at Mosfellsbær festival

In a separate event in Mosfellsbær, police received reports of a young man at the Í túninu heima festival carrying a concealed knife. Acting on witness descriptions, the police located the individual and discovered a kitchen knife hidden within his clothing. The knife was confiscated, and relevant information was collected at the scene for ongoing investigations.

Organised Crime, Sexual Offences Priority in New Action Plan

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Extensive changes will be made to the handling of sexual offences and organised crime in Iceland, according to a new action plan introduced by the Ministry of Justice yesterday. Dozens of new police officers will be hired to meet increased demand. The National Police Commissioner told Vísir that there is “room for improvement in many areas.”

A four-fold plan of action

During a press conference held yesterday, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson, alongside the National Police Commissioner, the Commissioner of the Capital Area Police, and the District Prosecutor, unveiled a new comprehensive plan for law enforcement. This plan, which has been in development for over a year, consists of four key components: strengthening general law enforcement, improving police officer training, implementing a new action plan for sexual offences, and significantly enhancing measures against organised crime.

According to Vísir, the plan involves the creation of 80 new positions to bolster law enforcement efforts. These positions will be distributed as follows: 10 new police officers to be stationed throughout the country, 10 specialists to carry out various police duties, 10 additional border guards, 10 officers dedicated solely to combating organised crime, and 10 officers tasked with investigating and prosecuting sexual offences.

In discussing the plan, Jón Gunnarsson emphasised the importance of optimising human capital and improving coordination between police departments in order to ensure the most effective and efficient use of resources. “There are challenging times ahead of us,” he noted, “but we remain committed to getting the best possible outcomes for the people we serve.”

Room for improvement in many areas

National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir expressed her satisfaction with the news of an increase in police officers. For years, she noted, the police force has been understaffed, which has severely impeded their ability to carry out their duties. “There is a lot of room for improvement in many areas,” she added.

Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson echoed Sigríður’s sentiments, telling Vísir that while progress in some areas of law enforcement may be seen as early as this year, others will take more time. He emphasised the importance of educating and training police officers, but also highlighted the immediate results already achieved in cases of sexual offences and violence.

“We have taken the first steps towards building a stronger police force,” Jón Gunnarsson said, “which will ultimately make our citizens safer and better protected.”

A new action plan for sexual offences

A comprehensive plan to tackle sexual offences has also been put in place, including an increase in the number of people investigating and prosecuting such crimes, as well as a bolstering of the system itself. According to Jón, the results have been “unquestionable.”

“The fight will probably never end, but it starts with society becoming involved in the fight against violent and sexual crimes: that we show concern as opposed to looking the other way – and help and report if we become aware of something untoward.”

Over the past year, the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the police and other interested parties, launched a campaign to raise awareness about sexual offences. The aim of the campaign was to increase the number of reports. According to the National Police Commissioner, this campaign has proven successful:

“We are hoping that this does not mean an increase in the number of cases, but that the number of people reporting on these cases is increasing. With the increase in the number of reports, however, it means that more officers are needed so that the rate of cases can become acceptable,” Sigríður told Vísir.

The expediting of sexual-offence cases

As noted by Vísir, the processing time of sexual offences in Iceland has long been criticised, although that time has reportedly been shortened over recent months:

“We want, of course, to expedite these cases as much as possible, but we must not forget that technical research also needs to be done: phones need to be studied, biometrics, etc. There are all kinds of things that simply take time. This will never be something you handle in a few days, but we can do much better and plan to do much better,” Sigríður stated.

It is not only the investigative aspect of such crimes that has taken a long time, however, but court proceedings, as well. District prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson stated that such a thing was not limited to sexual offence cases.

“We’ve been criticised, as far as other offences are concerned, for taking too long, but when we examine the processing of such cases abroad, we see that they also take quite a long time. There has, however, been a special effort to expedite the processing of sexual offences,” Ólafur remarked.

Organised crime on the rise

As far as organised crime is concerned, the response of law enforcement is being greatly bolstered. The district attorney will chair a special steering committee for the establishment of interdepartmental investigative teams. They are meant to analyse and prioritise organised-crime cases.

“The number of these cases has been increasing so that more work, more hands, has been required. And this increase that is being announced [in this plan] is primarily aimed at increasing the number of staff so that this can be done faster and that the system has more capacity,” Ólafur observed.

The Minister of Justice stated that big steps were being taken in dealing with recent, worrying trends:

“These are issues that extend beyond the borders, which show no respect for borders, and require a lot of expertise. We cooperate with foreign police authorities, and this requires a lot of cooperation between police departments, and even with the tax authorities, and other parties, within the country,” Jón observed.

Police Commissioner’s Father Entangled in Domestic-Terror Investigation

Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson

National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir has recused herself from an investigation into a domestic-terrorism plot; the home of the Police Commissioner’s father, a well-known weapons collector, was searched during the investigation. Two men remain in custody.

A well-known weapons collector and gunsmith

Last week, the police arrested four Icelandic men suspected of planning a domestic-terrorism attack. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody.

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. The men, all of whom are in their twenties, had discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration, which will be held tomorrow, October 1.

Read More: Does Iceland have a gun problem?

At a press conference yesterday, Sveinn Ingiberg Magnússon, Chief of Police for the District Attorney’s Office, revealed that National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir had recused herself from the case as an individual connected to her had been named in the investigation.

Following the press conference, various outlets reported that the individual in question was Guðjón Valdimarsson, the Police Commissioner’s father. According to RÚV, the police had searched the home of Guðjón Valdimarsson, a known weapons collector and gunsmith, who sells weapons and spare parts on the website vopnasalinn.net.

Guðjón is said to own a sizable collection of guns and has been granted a “collector’s licence,” authorising his ownership of illegal weapons if, for example, they possess historical value. The police has, however, not offered any details on Guðjón’s possible connection to the investigation.

Mbl.is references comments that Guðjón Valdimarsson made regarding a bill on weapons, explosives, and fireworks. “My weapons collection is one of the largest private collections in Iceland,” Guðjón remarked, adding that he had invested a considerable amount in weapons, estimating the value of his collection to be ca. ISK 40 million. He also emphasised that his collection was kept in a specially-designed building and that all of the weapons were registered legally.

Police officers to experiment with tasers

The investigation into the domestic-terror plot has brought the discussion of proactive policing into the fore. RÚV reports that the Minister of Justice is drafting regulations that would allow police officers to carry tasers as a part of an experimental project.

Iceland: Terrorist Plot Sparks Debate on Police Power

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.

Read More: Does Iceland Have a Gun Problem?

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.

Common denominator

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.”

“Society More Vigilant Against Domestic Abuse,” Police Commissioner Says

Metropolitan Police

A record number of domestic-violence incidents were reported to the police over the past two years, a new report from the Icelandic Police indicates. Victim surveys suggest that domestic violence has not increased, but victims report incidences more frequently. The National Police Commissioner calls this a “positive development.”

2,102 incidents of domestic disputes and violence in 2021

A new report on domestic violence by the Icelandic Police indicates that reports of domestic violence and domestic disputes are on the rise. Fifteen-hundred incidents were reported in 2014, compared to 2,102 in 2021.

In an interview with the radio programme Morgunútvarpið on Rás 2 this morning, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir referred to this increase in reports as a “positive development.”

“Because during the pandemic – when social restrictions were in effect, and when kids were out of school, etc. – we feared that we would receive fewer reports and fewer calls for help. But this wasn’t the case. Child protective services were notified on multiple occasions when there was a suspicion of possible violence. So you could say that we, as a society, were vigilant, with outside parties notifying the authorities,” Sigríður Björk stated.

Sigríður suggests that over the past few years society has begun to “open its eyes” to this kind of violence. (The report also notes that police protocols were updated in 2014, which led to increased reporting.)

“Only 10 or 15 years ago, domestic violence was regarded as a private matter,” Sigríður Björk continued. “But this is deadly serious. You just have to look at homicide data: half of all homicides occur between related or associated parties.”

Sigríður Björk says that the authorities need to consider preventive measures and educational initiatives to curb domestic abuse.

“When it comes to digital abuse, for example, where you have so many young victims and abusers. Just having a web page: kids are learning (to adopt this technology) and trying on different roles. You can be involved in a situation that is abusive in nature, even though you don’t realise it. Public discourse is important, that is, that it’s not considered a private affair, which people have to deal with for years on end, even at a risk to their lives,” Sigríður Björk observed.

As noted in the report, domestic-violence incidences reported to the police increased by a third between 2015 and 2021. 80% of aggressors were male.

Asylum Applications at a Seven-Year High

deportation iceland

Applications for asylum in Iceland are the highest they’ve been since November 2016, RÚV reports. The resulting stress on the police, the border, and the immigration processing system is such that the National Commissioner of Police may raise the border response plan’s preparedness level to Alert Phase.

Such were among the findings of a status report that the office of the National Commissioner released this week regarding overload at the Icelandic border and the possible activation of an emergency response plan to better deal with the influx of asylum applications.

According to the report, 182 individuals from 15 different countries applied for asylum in Iceland in February. Most of these applicants are from Venezuela; 20 are from Palestine. There are 96 total asylum cases under consideration, 25 of which include children—some of whom have traveled alone, without any adult family members.

Of the 182 applicants, 132 individuals have a “no hit” status in the EURODAC biometric database. EURODAC facilitates “the application of the Dublin Regulation, which determines which Member State is responsible for the assessment of an asylum claim presented in the European Union and the Associated Dublin States (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).” Under this system, participating states must take and record the fingerprints of any asylum seeker over the age of 14. So if an asylum seeker is “no hit” in Iceland, it means that Iceland is the first participating country they’ve entered and their application is supposed to be reviewed there.

Due to the high number of applications last month, not all of February’s asylum seekers have been fingerprinted or photographed yet. The report notes that in the final few days of last month, asylum seekers had to stand in line for hours at Bæjarhraun 18, where both the Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL) and a police station are located. ÚTL has requested additional equipment so that they will be able to take fingerprints and photographs at two different stations going forward. The equipment is expected to arrive in the coming days.

ÚTL has also rented out three hotels in the capital area to accommodate asylum seekers who are waiting to have their cases reviewed. It is expected that these will be filled to capacity within the next few days, which means that additional accommodations will be needed. If additional staff people is not provided to assist in the review of asylum cases, it is expected that the wait times on these applications will be long.

Log4j Vulnerability in Iceland: Uncertainty Phase Declared

keyboard computer typing

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared an uncertainty phase due to the Log4j vulnerability affecting computer networks worldwide. Since last week, Icelandic authorities have been working to minimise the damage the vulnerability could potentially cause. The Log4j vulnerability primary affects businesses by putting their computer systems at risk of hacking.

“The severity of the vulnerability lies first and foremost in how widespread the Log4j code library is and the depth and richness of the access it can provide to internal systems,” according to a notice from the Civil Protection Department. The notice points out that the vulnerability is not unique to Iceland but a global problem. “The public does not have to be particularly afraid of it regarding their home computers or mobile phones. However, it is always a good rule of thumb to update your virus protection and other software as soon as updates are announced.”

Businesses encouraged to review all systems

Network and computer system operators in Iceland are encouraged to review all systems where the vulnerability could be present and updated them as soon as updates are available. Authorities also underline the importance of monitoring systems following an update in order to assess whether there are indications that the vulnerability was used to install malware while the systems were weak.

The National Police Commissioner declared the uncertainty phase after consultation with computer emergency response team CERT-IS and the Electronic Communications Office of Iceland (ECOI). The Civil Protection Department and CERT-IS have activated their response plan for the protection of essential information infrastructure due to the vulnerability.