Police in the far northern Norwegian city of Vadsø are baffled and residents stunned by the murder last weekend of a young Norwegian man, fatally stabbed while on duty at a local grocery store. The assailant is also a young man, one of many who fled Afghanistan and sought refuge in Vadsø three years ago, and local residents don’t want the murder to tarnish the image of asylum seekers.
“It’s terrible what happened,” Inger Hirsti, who owns a shop adjacent to the grocery store, told newspaper Aftenposten. “We’ve had only good experience with people moving here and there are many of us with different backgrounds who live here together. It would be stupid for a single incident to damage that.”
Vadsø, an administrative center for a large area of Finnmark with a population of just over 6,000, has a long tradition of taking in and settling asylum seekers. The town, which features a large monument to immigrants from Finland, Russia and elsewhere, has often ranked as the city in Norway that settles the most refugees on a per capita basis.
Police were struggling to find a motive for the murder Saturday evening, and the victim’s family made it clear through their attorney that they didn’t want to speculate on one. “They want the police to be allowed to do their job and find the answers that way,” Edil Hennie Olsen, the attorney provided by the community to help the family, told news bureau NTB. “There have over time been a lot of people from Afghanistan in Vadsø and there still are. The family doesn’t want this (the murder) to in any way create problems for them.”
Seeking psychiatric evaluation
NTB reported that the 17-year-old assailant entered the Coop Extra grocery store, which is open until 11pm, attacked 18-year-old Håvard Pedersen with what was described as “an object resembling a knife” and was seen running from the store with the knife in his hand. He was arrested after jumping into the chilly Barents Sea.
Police are seeking a psychiatric evaluation of the 17-year-old, who arrived in Norway alone and has no family in Vadsø. Aftenposten reported that the 17-year-old attended the same school as Pedersen, but the two were in different classes and reportedly not acquainted with one another.
Farid Shariati, leader of the Greens Party in Finnmark who works on integration projects, told Aftenposten that local asylum seekers and refugees were distancing themselves from the murder. “They are frustrated and sad,” Shariati said. “This is a big tragedy for everyone.”
Immigrants ‘should not suffer’
Acting Vadsø Mayor Otto Strand claimed that the immigrant community in Vadsø “should not suffer because one person has committed murder.” The defendant reportedly had obtained temporary residence permission in Norway until at least December 16.
Local officials were the targets of criticism from one of Pedersen’s colleagues. The colleague claims he warned them earlier about the defendant’s behaviour several weeks ago. Strand declined specific comment but claimed that when such warnings come in, they are followed up.
Police had questioned around 30 people as of Wednesday, secured surveillance camera video of the murder scene and questioned the assailant, who has denied criminal responsibility but said to be cooperating with police. A court has ordered him held in custody while the police continue their investigation.