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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

'Racist sniper' appears in Swedish court

A Swedish man suspected of a year-long shooting spree against immigrants was remanded in custody on Tuesday, facing one charge of murder and five of attempted murder, a court official said.

"He has been remanded in custody," a clerk at the Malmoe district court in southern Sweden told AFP.

Since his arrest late Saturday, the suspect has been identified by police only as a 38-year-old ethnic Swede, but media reports have named him as Peter Mangs.

Prosecutor Solveig Wollstad requested he be remanded in custody on suspicion of the murder of a 20-year-old woman in October 2009 and five attempted murders since.

She told reporters after the hearing she feared that if released, "he will destroy evidence ... and will continue with his criminal behaviour."

"The suspicion against him has been strengthened" since his arrest, Wollstad told a press conference broadcast live on television, adding that other shooting incidents also figured in the ongoing investigation.

The court hearing, held behind closed doors, determined that charges should be brought against the suspect by November 23, but Wollstad said the probe would take longer and that she would ask for his detention to be extended.

Defence lawyer Christina Brink meanwhile said her client denied any wrongdoing and opposed being held in custody, the Expressen daily reported.

The ruling to keep him in custody came as a massive Malmoe police investigation continued into whether a lone shooter with racist motives was behind some 15 attacks over the past year, killing one person and injuring several others.

The shooter may even have committed unsolved murders dating as far back as 2003, police said.

"The investigation is far from over," regional police chief Boerje Stroemholm told Tuesday's press conference, stressing that questioning of the suspect had not revealed a motive.

"He denies committing a crime, so it is difficult to ask what his motives have been," he said.

The incidents in the southern city bore chilling similarity to the case of a gunman who targeted immigrants in Stockholm in the early 1990s, dubbed "Laserman".

The "Laserman", John Ausonius, shot 11 people of immigrant origin, killing one, around Stockholm from August 1991 to January 1992.

Ausonius, who got his nickname by initially using a rifle equipped with a laser sight, was jailed for life in 1994.

Police said the man arrested Saturday possessed a licence for two weapons, seized during a search of his home.

Expressen reported that at least one of the weapons has been linked to a number of the shootings being investigated as part of the case.

Swedish media have also reported that the suspect is suffering from Aspergers disease, and on Tuesday police acknowledged that he had "a handicap," they were taking into consideration during interrogations.

Police meanwhile criticised the massive media attention surrounding the case, lashing out at journalists for revealing so many details and publishing the man's name and picture.

Stroemholm said any attempt to set up a photo identity parade for victims and witnesses "has been ruined," adding that police had also been forced to evacuate at least two family members and acquaintances of the suspect due to media pressure.

Trez Persson, 20, was killed last October when someone fired several shots into the car in which she was sitting with a friend, a man of immigrant origin, who was seriously wounded.

Media reports have linked several shootings last month to the case, including incidents in which two men were shot in the back, a week apart, as they waited alone in the dark at isolated bus stops.

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