Crashed Japanese F-35 wreckage found in Pacific, pilot still missing

A Japan Coast Guard vessel and a U.S. military aircraft conduct rescue and search operations at the site where an Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, off Aomori prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 10, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – Search and rescue teams found wreckage from a crashed Japanese F-35 stealth fighter in the Pacific Ocean close to northern Japan, and are scouring the waters for the missing pilot, authorities said on Wednesday.

The aircraft, less than a year old, was the first F-35 assembled in Japan and was aloft for only 28 minutes on Tuesday before contact was lost, a defense official said. The plane had logged a total of 280 hours in the air, he added.

It was only the second F-35 to crash since the aircraft’s first flight in 2006 and could reignite concern about the F-35 having only one engine.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin is competing for orders in Finland and Switzerland against the twin-engined Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F jet.

The accident could influence Switzerland’s decision, but Finland could still pick the F-35 as it is close to Russia, said Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“I would be surprised if there was a common catastrophic fault hidden away in the F-35A,” he added. “It’s pretty unlikely given the large number of flight hours already completed.”

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet, which Kyodo says is the same plane that crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, is seen at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki Minami factory in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-35A stealth fighter jet, which Kyodo says is the same plane that crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, is seen at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki Minami factory in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

CAUSE UNKNOWN

The advanced, single-seat jet disappeared in good weather about 135 km (84 miles) east of the Misawa air base in Aomori prefecture at about 7:27 p.m. (1027 GMT), the Air Self Defense Force said.

“We recovered the wreckage and determined it was from the F-35,” a spokesman said.

Eight ships and seven aircraft, including a U.S. Navy P-8 Orion maritime patrol plane, joined the search and rescue effort.

The aircraft was leading three F-35s on training maneuvers when it sent an “aborting practice” signal and disappeared from radar, Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters.

The pilot, who had 3,200 hours of flying time, but had spent only 60 hours in the F-35, gave no other indication he was in trouble, the ASDF spokesman said.

“We’ll need to cooperate with the U.S. forces and I believe arrangements are being made,” Iwaya said, adding that the cause of the incident would have to be determined.

The crashed aircraft was the fifth delivered to the ASDF, but the first assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, a second ASDF official told Reuters. Japan’s 12 remaining F-35s are grounded for now, he added.

The previous four were used for training in the United States before being brought to Japan, the defense official said.

No other countries operating the F-35 have grounded their stealth aircraft. Britain said it was reviewing the status of its 17 F-35B fighters for now.

Australia is also waiting, the Australian newspaper has said. A spokesman for the Royal Australian Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd said it had no immediate comment. The company assembles the aircraft at a plant near Nagoya in central Japan. The lost aircraft cost 14 billion yen ($126 million), several million more than one bought directly from the United States.

The aircraft crashed in waters whose depth reaches about 1,500 meters (4,920 ft), making recovery, particularly of its flight data recorder, or black box, difficult, the official said.

Without the device, investigators could study the aircraft’s classified communications and data sharing system for clues, an industry source said on condition of anonymity.

ONLY SECOND F35 TO CRASH

The ASDF received the aircraft, designed to penetrate enemy defenses by evading radar detection, last May, its spokesman said.

Japan’s first squadron of F-35s has just become operational at Misawa, and the government plans to buy 87 of the stealth fighters to modernize its air defenses as neighboring China and Russia upgrade their military forces.

Lockheed said it was standing by to support the Japanese Air Self Defense Force as needed. The Pentagon said it was monitoring the situation.

The crash was the first of the A variant of the fifth-generation fighter. A U.S. Marine Corps short take-off and landing (STOVL) F-35B version crashed near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina in September, prompting a temporary grounding of the aircraft. Lockheed also makes a C version of the fighter designed to operate off carriers.

Japan’s new F-35s include 18 STOVL B planes it plans to deploy on its islands along the edge of the East China Sea.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Jamie Freed in Singapore; Chris Gallagher, Chang-Ran Kim and Takashi Umekawa in Tokyo, and Idrees Ali and Chris Sanders in Washington; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Clarence Fernandez)

Trump sits down with Putin after denouncing past U.S. policy on Russia

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Jeff Mason and Andrew Osborn

HELSINKI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin for a long-awaited summit on Monday saying he wanted good relations with Russia, after blaming Washington’s own past “foolishness and stupidity” for the countries’ hostile ties.

Trump opened the meeting with warm words for Putin, seated next to the Russian leader in an ornate presidential palace in neutral Finland, and said it was a longstanding goal of his to improve the relationship between the two countries.

“I think we will have an extraordinary relationship. I hope so. I’ve been saying it, and I’m sure you’ve heard over the years, and as I campaigned, that getting along with Russia is good thing, not a bad thing,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

But to Trump’s critics, the friendly words had already been overshadowed by an extraordinary denunciation of his own country’s prior policies, which Trump tweeted out hours before the summit.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he tweeted before the summit began.

The Russian foreign ministry “liked” his tweet, and tweeted back: “We agree”.

Trump’s opponents at home were furious, with one Democratic congressman tweeting that Trump had turned the White House into “a propaganda arm for the Kremlin”.

Putin and Trump met alone apart from interpreters before a working lunch with aides. Trump said they would talk about a range of subjects, listing trade, the military, nuclear weapons and China.

But, at least in his public remarks at the outset, he mentioned none of the issues that have lately brought U.S.-Russian relations to the lowest point since the Cold War: Moscow’s annexation of territory from Ukraine, its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, as well as Western accusations that it poisoned a spy in England and meddled in elections.

“Our relationship with Russia is strained because of the very malign actions he’s refusing to take Russia to task for,” tweeted Democratic U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Though relations were worse during the Cold War, at least then the US Presidency wasn’t a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.”

The Kremlin has played down expectations for the summit. It said it did not expect much from the meeting but hoped it would be a “first step” to resolving a crisis in ties.

“Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along.”

While Trump has been abroad since last week, the special prosecutor investigating allegations that Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 presidential election indicted 12 Russians on Friday for stealing Democratic Party documents.

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto his wife Jenni Haukio pose for a photo in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto his wife Jenni Haukio pose for a photo in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“WHICH TEAM DO YOU PLAY FOR?”

Trump’s foes at home have been scathing about his apparent refusal to criticize Putin. His 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Great World Cup. Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

Russia denies interfering in the U.S. presidential election. The state RIA news agency quoted a Russian source as saying Moscow was “ready to discuss, ready to undertake mutual obligations of non-intervention into internal matters”.

Trump has said he will raise the election meddling but does not expect to get anywhere. He has repeatedly noted that Putin denies it, while also saying that it is alleged to have taken place before he became president.

For Putin, that the summit is even happening despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies is a geopolitical win.

The summit caps a trip abroad during which Trump sternly criticized NATO allies for failing to spend enough on their militaries and embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by saying she refused to take his advice about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. He referred to the European Union itself as a “foe” in trade, and repeatedly criticized it.

In some of the strongest words yet reflecting the unease of Washington’s traditional allies, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could not rely on Trump.

“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

(Additonal reporting by Steve Holland in Helsinki and by Christian Lowe and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Hotel key cards, even invalid ones, help hackers break into rooms

F-Secure researcher Timo Hirvonen shows a device that is able to create a master key out of a single hotel key card in Helsinki, Finland April 19, 2018. Picture taken April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Attila

By Jussi Rosendahl and Attila Cser

HELSINKI (Reuters) – By getting hold of a widely used hotel key card, an attacker could create a master key to unlock any room in the building without leaving a trace, Finnish security researchers said in a study published on Wednesday, solving a 14-year-old mystery.

While the researchers have fixed the flaw together with Assa Abloy, the world’s largest lock manufacturer which owns the system in question, the case serves as a wake-up call for the lodging industry to a problem that went undetected for years.

Tomi Tuominen, 45, and Timo Hirvonen, 32, security consultants for Finnish data security company F-Secure, say they discovered the vulnerability about a year ago, and reported it to Assa.

“We found out that by using any key card to a hotel … you can create a master key that can enter any room in the hotel. It doesn’t even have to be a valid card, it can be an expired one,” Hirvonen said in an interview.

The researchers helped Assa fix the software for an update made available to hotel chains in February. Assa said some hotels have updated it but that it would take a couple more weeks to fully resolve the issue.

“I highly encourage the hotels to install those software fixes,” Hirvonen said. “But I think there is no immediate threat, since being able to develop this attack is going to take some time.”

Any fresh security risk remains low since the researchers’ tools and method will not be published, Assa noted.

The radio-frequency ID key card system in question, Vision by Vingcard, has been replaced by many hotels with new technology, but its current owner Assa Abloy estimated that the system is still being used in several hundred thousand hotel rooms worldwide.

Tuominen said the breakthrough was to figure out a weakness in how the locks are deployed and installed, together with a seemingly minor technical design flaw.

COLD CASE FILES

Sitting at F-Secure’s glass-and-steel-on-stilts headquarters by the Baltic Sea, the researchers show off a small hardware device which they have made able to write a master key out of the information of any card in the Vingcard system.

Clues date back to 2003 when a laptop disappeared from a computer security expert’s room at a high-class hotel in Berlin.

The thief left no traces in the room or within the electric lock system, hotel personnel said. The stolen laptop, which never turned up, belonged to a guest who had presented his research at a security conference.

Hearing of the theft at the conference, Tuominen and Hirvonen – then youthful computer guys in hacker-style black hoodies – asked themselves: Could one hack the locking system without leaving a trace?

For years, the two worked off and on to solve the mystery of the plastic cards, which guests often neglect to return. First it was purely a hobby, later a professional mission.

“These issues alone are not a problem, but once you combine those two things, it becomes exploitable,” Hirvonen said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if other electronic lock systems have similar vulnerabilities. You cannot really know how secure the system is unless someone has really tried to break it.”

The researchers say they have no evidence whether the vulnerabities they found have been put to work by criminals.

Assa Abloy stresses that its newer offerings are based on different technologies, including a system that allows hotel guests to open door locks with their smartphones.

“The challenge of the security business is that it is a moving target. What is secure at a point of time, is not 20 years later,” Christophe Sut, an executive at Assa Abloy Hospitality, said in a phone interview.

The researchers asked for no money from Assa for their work or discovery, saying they were only driven by the challenge.

“Some people play football, some people go sailing, some do photography. This is our hobby,” Tuominen said.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Attila Cser, editing by Eric Auchard and Adrian Croft)

Finland is world’s happiest country, U.S. discontent grows: U.N. report

People enjoy a sunnny day at the Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Finland is the world’s happiest country, according to an annual survey issued on Wednesday that found Americans were getting less happy even as their country became richer.

Burundi came bottom in the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) 2018 World Happiness Report which ranked 156 countries according to things such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

Taking the harsh, dark winters in their stride, Finns said access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare were among the best things about in their country.

 

FILE PHOTO: Finland's flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Finland’s flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

“I’ve joked with the other Americans that we are living the American dream here in Finland,” said Brianna Owens, who moved from the United States and is now a teacher in Espoo, Finland’s second biggest city with a population of around 280,000.

“I think everything in this society is set up for people to be successful, starting with university and transportation that works really well,” Owens told Reuters.

Finland, rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top-10, as ever dominated by the Nordics, is: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year. Britain was 19th and the United Arab Emirates 20th.

One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the last half century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business and declining confidence in public institutions.

“We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government,” the head of the SDSN, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of New York’s Columbia University, told Reuters as the report was launched at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

Asked how the current political situation in the United States could affect future happiness reports, Sachs said:

“Time will tell, but I would say that in general that when confidence in government is low, when perceptions of corruption are high, inequality is high and health conditions are worsening … that is not conducive to good feelings.”

For the first time since it was started in 2012, the report, which uses a variety of polling organizations, official figures and research methods, ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in 117 countries.

Finland took top honors in that category too, giving the country a statistical double-gold status.

The foreign-born were least happy in Syria, which has been mired in civil war for seven years.

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said Professor John Helliwell of Canada’s University of British Columbia.

“Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” he said.

“Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Reuters television in Finland; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Finnish police study ‘manifesto’ by knife attack suspect

FILE PHOTO: People attend a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of Friday's stabbings at the Turku Market Square in Turku, Finland August 20, 2017. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finnish police are studying a handwritten note they believe will offer clues to what motivated a 22-year old Moroccan asylum seeker to kill two women in a knife attack.

Abderrahman Bouanane, who is in pre-trial detention pending an investigation into alleged murder with terrorist intent, told a court last week he was responsible for the Aug. 18 attack but denied his motive was terrorism.

Detective Inspector Olli Toyras, from Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation, said police found the note in Bouanane’s backpack

“It is an important part of understanding his motives,” Toyras told Reuters on Tuesday. “You could call it a manifesto, it reflects the writer’s thoughts.”

Police declined to comment on the contents of the note, or if it included political messages or references to extremist organizations.

Two women died and eight people were wounded in the Aug. 18 attack in the south-western coastal city of Turku.

Bouanane arrived in Finland in 2016, lived in a reception center in Turku and had been denied asylum.

Police released two men earlier on Tuesday who had been detained over the stabbings, leaving Bouanane and one other man in custody.

The second suspect has denied involvement in the attack.

(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell; editing by John Stonestreet)

Finns want tougher immigration policy after knife attack, poll shows

FILE PHOTO: People attend a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of Friday's stabbings at the Turku Market Square in Turku, Finland August 20, 2017. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) – An increasing number of Finns want the government to get tougher on immigration after last week’s knife attack by a Moroccan asylum seeker that killed two women and wounded eight other people, an opinion poll showed on Thursday.

Friday’s stabbings in the city of Turku have been treated as the first suspected Islamist militant attack in Finland, which boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world. However, the main suspected has denied terrorism was a motive.

Some 58 percent of Finns want the government to tighten immigration policy and give police and other officials extra powers to prevent future attacks, according to the poll, which was taken after the attack and published by the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti.

A similar poll in April showed only 40 percent supported stricter policies.

Finnish police have detained four men and arrested two in connection with the Turku killings. An international arrest warrant has been issued for a fifth.

The main suspect, who is in custody, has been named as Abderrahman Mechkah, an 18-year-old Moroccan. He told a court he was responsible for the attack but denied his motive was terrorism.

At the time of the attack, Mechkah was appealing against a decision on his application for asylum, which apparently was denied.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila has urged the parliament to fast-track a bill that would give authorities new powers to monitor citizens online.

Some officials have also promoted establishing better-controlled “return centers” to monitor more closely those who had been denied asylum.

The poll showed 80 percent of Finns supporting both proposals.

(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell, editing by Larry King)

Moroccan teenager admits killing two in Finland knife rampage: lawyer

The initial remand hearing of Abderrahman Mechkah (lying in a hospital bed, attending the court session via video), 18 year-old Moroccan man suspected of killing two people and attempting to kill eight others with terrorist intent in Turku, on Friday, August 19, is held at Southwest Finland District Court in Turku, Finland, August 22, 2017. LEHTIKUVA /Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) – A teenage Moroccan asylum seeker admitted on Tuesday killing two people and wounding eight in a knife attack in the Finnish city of Turku, his lawyer said.

In a closed-door court hearing, 18-year-old Abderrahman Mechkah confessed to carrying out Friday’s attack but did not admit to having terrorist motive, lawyer Kaarle Gummerus said.

“(My client) admits manslaughter and injuries… But what the investigator has brought up this far may not be enough to classify this as a terrorist crime,” Gummerus told Reuters.

Mechkah appeared in court via video link from hospital, where he is being treated after being shot in the leg by police following the stabbings.

The court ordered Mechkah, who has yet to be charged with any offense, to be detained in prison pending trial.

Three other Moroccan men detained over possible links to the attack are due in court later on Tuesday. A fifth Moroccan who had also been under arrest was released, the court said.

The investigation is the first into suspected terrorism-related crimes in Finland’s history.

Gummerus said it was “impossible to take a final stance at the moment” on the issue of whether the stabbings were terrorism-related.

Investigators have not made clear what role the three other Moroccans, who deny involvement in the attack, are suspected of playing.

Police said they had issued an international arrest warrant for a fifth Moroccan national.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; editing by John Stonestreet)

Finnish stabbings treated as terror, suspect ‘targeted women’: police

Finnish stabbings treated as terror, suspect 'targeted women': police

By Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell

HELSINKI/TURKU, Finland (Reuters) – Finnish police said on Saturday that an 18-year-old Moroccan man arrested after knife attacks that killed two people in the city of Turku appeared to have specifically targeted women and that the spree was being treated as terrorism-related.

The suspect arrested on Friday after being shot in the leg by police had arrived in Finland last year, they said, adding they later arrested four other Moroccan men over possible links to him.

“Due to information received during the night, the Turku stabbings are now being investigated as murders with terrorist intent,” Crista Granroth from the National Bureau of Investigation told a news conference.

While the identity of the victims has not been disclosed by authorities, police said the attacker appeared to have targeted women during the stabbing spree in downtown Turku, a city of just under 200,000 people in southwest Finland.

“It seems that the suspect chose women as his targets, because the men who were wounded were injured when they tried to help, or prevent the attacks,” Granroth said.

Both of those killed in the attack were women, as well as six of the eight wounded, she added. The two who died were Finns and an Italian and two Swedish citizens were among the injured.

Finnish broadcaster MTV, citing an unnamed source, said the main suspect had been denied asylum in Finland. The police said only that he been “part of the asylum process”.

SCREAMING

“First thing we heard was a young woman, screaming like crazy. I thought it’s just kids having fun … but then people started to move around and I saw a man with a knife in his hand, stabbing a woman,” said Laura Laine, who was sitting in a cafe during one of the attacks.

“Then a person ran towards us shouting ‘He has a knife’, and everybody from the terrace ran inside. Next, a woman came in to the cafe. She was crying hysterically, down on her knees, saying someone’s neck has been slashed open.”

Four of the wounded were still in hospital, three of them in intensive care, while the other injured persons would be sent home on Saturday, the hospital said.

Local media said the police raided an apartment in the eastern Turku suburb of Varissuo, which is home to a large immigrant population, and located about seven kilometers from the market square where the attacks took place.

Flags were at half mast on Saturday across Finland, whose Security Intelligence Service (SIS) raised the terrorism threat level in June to ‘elevated’ from ‘low’, saying it had become aware of terrorism-related plans.

Leaders of Turku’s Iraqi and Syrian community condemned the attacks and said they would hold a rally of solidarity in the city’s main square, but canceled the plan due to security concerns.

An anti-immigration group was planning a demonstration in Helsinki.

“Terrorists want to pit people against each other. We will not let this happen. Finnish society will not be defeated by fear or hatred,” Interior Minister Paula Risikko said on Twitter.

On Thursday, a suspected Islamist militant drove a van into crowds in Barcelona in Spain, killing 13 people and wounding scores of others.

Finnish police said they were looking into any possible links between the Finnish stabbings and the attack in Spain and that they had issued an international arrest warrant for a sixth Moroccan national.

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos; Writing by Jussi Rosendahl and Niklas Pollard; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Andrew Bolton)

Two dead, at least six hurt in knife attack in Finland

Rescue personnel cordon the place where several people were stabbed, at Turku Market Square, Finland August 18, 2017. LEHTIKUVA/Roni Lehti via REUTERS

By Tuomas Forsell

TURKU, Finland (Reuters) – A man with a knife killed two people and wounded at least six in a stabbing rampage in a market square in the Finnish city of Turku on Friday, police said.

Police shot the suspected attacker in the leg and arrested him. They said they had yet to establish the identity of the man who appeared to be of foreign origin, or his motive.

They warned people to stay away from the city and reinforced security nationwide, with increased patrols and more surveillance, in case more people were involved. People were allowed to return to the city center a few hours later.

“At this stage, there is only one suspect and we are investigating whether there are more people involved … but it looks likely (he was alone),” said Markus Laine from the National Bureau of Investigation.

“At this stage, we do not investigate this (as a terrorism attack) but the possibility has not been ruled out,” he told a news conference.

Interior Minister Paula Risikko said: “We have not been able to confirm the person’s identity… we have been in contact with the immigration service as the person looks like a foreigner.”

Eyewitnesses described the panic at the scene.

“A man walked towards the ice cream stand where I work, and he hit a woman three times. He started running, went past my kiosk, and he had a knife in his hand,” Terttu Lehtinen told Reuters.

She said that some other men ran behind, apparently chasing him.

“We were sitting by the market square, just enjoying the afternoon. Suddenly people started screaming and yelling, they were hysterical,” said another witness, who gave her name only as Reetta.

“We started running towards our car and, as we got there, my boyfriend said a woman had been stabbed several times in the neck,” she told Reuters.

The six wounded were taken to hospital, police said.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila said: “My deepest condolences to the families and close-ones of the Turku victims. The events of the day are shocking us all.” He added that the government would meet later.

Finland is usually peaceful but the Security Intelligence Service raised the terrorism threat level in June, saying it had become aware of terrorism-related plans in Finland.

The government has grown more concerned about attacks, partly since an Uzbek man killed four people in neighboring Sweden in April by driving a hijacked truck into crowd in central Stockholm.

On Thursday, a suspected Islamist militant drove a van into crowds in Barcelona, Spain, killing 13 people and wounding scores of others.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “It is with great concern that I have learnt of the violent attacks in Turku, Finland. While details are still emerging, we strongly condemn this unprovoked attack which comes only 24 hours after the horror that unfolded in Spain.”

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Writing by Alister Doyle; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Robin Pomeroy)

Finland sees propaganda attack from former master Russia

A Russian SU-27 fighter violating Finland's airspace near Porvoo, Finland, early October 7, 2016. Finnish Air Force/

By Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland is becoming increasingly worried about what it sees as Russian propaganda against it, including Russian questioning about the legality of its 1917 independence.

The country shares a 1,340 km (833 mile) border and a difficult and bloody history with Russia, of which it was once a part. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and saber-rattling in the Baltic Sea have raised security concerns in the militarily neutral European Union country.

Earlier this month, Finland and Estonia both accused Russian fighter jets of violating their airspace. Russia has also started moving nuclear-capable missiles into its Kaliningrad enclave bordering Poland and Lithuania.

Sitting in his office in the government palace – built for Russia’s Grand Duchy of Finland – Markku Mantila leads a network of officials who monitor attempts to influence the country.

He says Finland is facing intensifying media attacks led by Kremlin.

“We believe this aggressive influencing from Russia aims at creating distrust between leaders and citizens, and to have us make decisions harmful to ourselves,” he said. “It also aims to make citizens suspicious about the European Union, and to warn Finland over not joining NATO.”

Finland won independence during Russia’s revolution of 1917 but nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two. It kept close to the West economically and politically during the Cold War but avoided confrontation with Moscow.

Mantila, who is also the head of government communications, says Russian media last month reported on “cold-blooded” Finnish authorities taking custody of children from a Russian family living in Finland “due to their nationality”.

The Finnish government denied the reports, while declining to comment on an individual case due to the legal procedure. However, the story has been replicated hundreds of times in Russia over the past few weeks.

A report by Kremlin-led NTV said “even the locals call Finland a land of ruthless and irrational child terror.”

PLAQUE HIT WITH AX

Mantila, showing on his laptop what he said were false news pictures, skewed authority statements and pro-Kremlin online discussions, said his network has verified around 20 cases of clear information operations against Finland from the past few years, and around 30 “very likely” such operations.

“There is a systematic lying campaign going on… It is not a question of bad journalism, I believe it is controlled from the center,” he said.

Kremlin and Russian foreign ministry officials were not immediately available for a comment.

Foreign Minister Timo Soini has also acknowledged the alleged propaganda, saying the government was countering false information with facts.

“All states engage in propaganda, authoritarian states even more so,” he told Reuters.

Some of the incidents have taken aim at Finland’s independence and at its historical figures.

In June, a university in St Petersburg put up a plaque commemorating Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, Finland’s most famous military officer and former president, who had served in the Tsar’s army but later led Finnish armed forces in World War Two.

The plaque quickly became a target for protesters who have called Mannerheim – regarded in Finland as a symbol of the country’s struggle against the Soviet Union – a murderer and ruthless Nazi collaborator.

“The plaque’s been shot at, hit with an ax and doused in red paint several times,” Mantila said, noting that Finland had nothing to do with the plaque project in the first place.

Mantila said he believed the whole episode was a follow-up to earlier reports that suggested that Lenin’s Bolshevik administration had no right to accept Finland’s independence.

Finland celebrates its hundred years of independence next year, also the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

(Additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Alexander Winning in Moscow; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)