After two mass shootings in two years, Finns had been hoping they had seen an end to such murderous outbreaks. But yesterday the small Scandinavian nation's nightmare returned when a solitary gunman dressed in black killed five shop assistants near Helsinki, sparking fresh concerns over the country's liberal gun laws.
The gunman, who had previous convictions for gun offences, shot his ex-girlfriend with an unlicensed handgun at her flat in the town of Espoo, six miles west of the capital, yesterday morning before going on to kill a woman and three men at a crowded shopping centre nearby.
The 43-year-old gunman, Ibrahim Shkupolli, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, was later found dead in his home in Espoo after shooting himself. He had been living in Helsinki for several years.
Police were called to Sello shopping centre at around 10am yesterday amid scenes of panic. The centre was already crowded when the gunman opened fire at Prisma supermarket. "There were lots of people who were crying, and many vendors were completely panicked," one witness told state broadcaster YLE. Another shopper said she had seen Shkupolli rush past supermarket shoppers queuing for the till, carrying a long- barrelled pistol.
"The first announcement was to close the shop and get everybody out," a shop assistant, Joonatan Hongel, told Associated Press Television News. "Immediately after the first shooting they announced that we could re-open the shop, but then five minutes later there was an announcement to close the shops again and get everyone out."
Shkupolli's 42-year-old Finnish ex-girlfriend, who worked at the shopping centre, had taken out a restraining order against him, police said.
Police scoured the city using helicopters and stopping trains for several hours, while warnings were put out that Shkupolli, who was convicted of firearms offences in 2004 and 2007, was armed and dangerous.
This is the third such incident in Finland in as many years. In November 2007, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen killed seven pupils and a teacher before killing himself at his school in Tuusula. Then in September 2008, trainee chef Matti Saari, 22, killed nine students and one member of staff at a vocational college in the western town of Kauhajoki before turning the gun on himself. So far no links have been drawn between yesterday's shooting and the previous two, but it has provoked fresh calls for stricter firearms regulations.
Finland, a nation of 5.3 million, has a long tradition of hunting and ranks among the top five nations in the world in civilian gun ownership. It has 1.6m firearms in private hands.
Social workers and religious leaders have all urged tighter gun laws, more vigilance of internet sites and more social bonding in this small nation, which is known for its high suicide rates, heavy drinking and domestic violence.