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Monday, 25 October 2010

Swedish tailor tells of his battle with shooting spree racist

IT was the narrowest of escapes for the Iranian-born tailor. Malmo, the rugged waterfront city in southern Sweden, has been stalked for months by an apparently racist gunman.

He struck again on Saturday night, firing at the sewing shop of Nasir Yazdanpanah and then grappling on the ground with the 57-year-old.

It was the first time that anyone in 17 shootings had caught hold of the spectral figure.

We arrived at Mr Yazdanpanah's shop barely 20 minutes after the attack. The police, on high alert, were already there stringing up their Scene of the Crime tape.

"I heard a crack!" said the Iranian. A few hours earlier he had taken part in a demonstration against violence, holding aloft a placard announcing "The Earth is just One country and Humanity is its people."

Then he had returned to finish sewing a dress.

"I thought someone had thrown a stone at my window," he said. He was speaking to us by phone from the lit-up front of his atelier-cum-barbers' shop; his telephone number was written on the window and - because we were unable to cross police lines - it was the easiest way to talk. We looked in; he looked out.

The shooter must have had a similar view shortly before he struck. "So I went out and grabbed this man in an orange jacket and shook him.

He shouted 'Let me go!' and headbutted me in the mouth. I was too dazed to chase him; I just called my wife," Mr Yazdanpanah said.

The shooter escaped by bicycle. The police only found the bullet later. Had Mr Yazdanpanah, who was none the worse for wear apart from a thick lip, come into contact with the mysterious shooter being dubbed by the press as "Son of Laser Man"?

The police, busily constructing the links between the various attacks - the ammunition appears to match on at least five shootings - seem baffled. And they are under pressure from the Government to produce a quick result.

The idea that the shooter is an heir to the Laserman killer of the 1990s is attractive for headline writers but the police seem sceptical.

Between August 1991 and January 1992 John Ausonius used a hunting rifle to shoot foreigners, killing one and seriously injuring ten others.

The last thing that the victims saw was the red dot of his laser sight roaming their clothes. He was jailed for life in 1994, and remains in prison.

The latest shootings in Malmo began in October 2009 with the murder of a native Swedish woman who had a foreign boyfriend.

The similarity with the Laserman and the reason why the detective who found him, Eiler Augustsson, has been brought on to the profiling team, is that he started his shooting spree at a time when the New Democracy party of the far Right was drumming up racist sentiment.

This time the shootings also accelerated after general elections in September when the right-wing group Sweden Democrats won 20 seats in Parliament.

Both shooters may have responded to a similar psychological trigger: a feeling that by driving immigrants out of Sweden they were fulfilling some kind of national mission.

In most other respects the Malmo shooter is a different kind of criminal. He uses a 9mm handgun and shoots only after dark; later in the summer, when the days are longer, and now, in the autumn, about an hour or two after dusk, between 6pm and 9pm.

He often attacks on Fridays and Saturdays. And since it is difficult to shoot a hand gun accurately at a distance in the dark he often fails to hit his target.

The most telling clue to the shooter's psychology is that he frequently appears to observe his target in a brightly lit space.

On Thursday two East European women were shot after dusk while they were preparing a meal in their ground-floor kitchen.

Ali, who did not want to give his full name or nationality, was shot in the back last June in similar circumstances, while in a 24-hour gym with big windows.

"I was facing away from the window. Then I felt a sharp pain, thought I had done something to a nerve, then came the warm trickle of blood," he said.

It was in Malmo that Henning Mankell first set his Wallander mysteries; the opera-loving rotund Swedish cop was drawn into the detective business by a murder in his neighbouring apartment.

The Malmo police say they still have an open mind. But they have started to pull in teenagers wearing hooded sweat shirts, stopping them on the street - an unusual move.

"We have to work like this in the current situation," said Tomy Lindstrom, the former head of the national police, apologetically.

"Any male aged between 20 and 40, walking without a clear destination is a possible suspect."

The Australian