4 Finns held in mall bombing

Suspects may have helped attacker design and build deadly device via Internet

October 16, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HELSINKI, Finland - Police said yesterday that they had detained four Finns, three of them teen-agers, in connection with the bombing at a crowded shopping mall Friday that killed seven people and wounded as many as 100 in a suburb of Helsinki.

The four are not believed to have taken part in the bombing, which took place in Vantaa, about seven miles north of Helsinki, during the shopping surge late Friday afternoon. Rather, police said, the suspects may have provided bomb-making advice over the Internet to Petri Gerdt, a 19-year-old chemistry student who was killed in the blast and is suspected of being the bomber. Police said the others also may have helped him design the bomb.

Deputy Chief Jari Liukki of the National Bureau of Investigation, a unit of the Finnish police, told the Reuters news agency that the four were detained "for discussing with [Gerdt] the preparation of explosives."

The bureau said one of the four, a 17-year-old student, had been charged as "an accomplice to serious sabotage." The other three have not been charged. Under Finnish law, suspects can be held for several days without being formally accused of a crime.

Police described the bomb as a homemade explosive that weighed up to 6.5 pounds. Police said the device was packed with metal shards and shotgun pellets and contained ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Gerdt, a loner who lived with his parents in Vantaa and who attended college not far from the Myyrmanni shopping mall, where the bomb exploded, was an active participant in a Finnish Internet discussion group that shared bomb-making techniques.

The chat room, known as "Forum for Home Chemistry," has been shut down by authorities.

Its 17-year-old moderator, who apparently used the Web name "Einstein" and who is believed to be among the four men detained yesterday, told Finnish television reporters that the attack had not been discussed by members of the group.

Though authorities have not been able to point to a reason for the bombing, they said it was fairly clear that it was the work of Gerdt and was not related to an outside group or to terrorism. Gerdt was seen by witnesses and surveillance cameras arriving alone at the mall about 20 minutes before the bomb exploded and is also said to have visited the mall the day before.

"The motive is the big question mark, but we don't think it has an international connection or with international terrorism," said Inspector Rabbe von Hertzen of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Still shocked by the suddenness of such an incident in a place that is relatively free from violent crime, Finland declared yesterday a day of mourning, flying flags at half-staff, closing some government buildings and observing a moment of silence in parliament.

About 30 people injured in the bombing are still hospitalized, officials said.

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