New threats panic students in Finland

Panic spread among students in Finland on Thursday as threatening text messages and Internet postings raised fears of new attacks mimicking a deadly school rampage.

Worried children and parents jammed telephone help lines and scores of children stayed away from class after threats popped up against schools and students.

While most appeared to be hoaxes, police were taking every threat seriously to avoid a repeat of Tuesday's shooting, in which a 22-year-old gunman killed 10 people and himself at a vocational school in this town in western Finland.

It was the second school shooting in the country in less than a year. Last November, an 18-year-old man fatally shot eight people and himself at a high school in southern Finland.

“It's clear that the more you talk about these incidents, the more chances there are of copycats,” National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero told reporters in Helsinki. “After we've witnessed two such incidents, the threat is real.”

Both gunmen posed with or fired guns in YouTube clips posted before the rampages. The similarities between the attacks prompted police to probe potential links between them.

“The cases were similar. They were the same type of person, so it could be possible,” investigation leader Jari Neulaniemi told The Associated Press. “They had the same style of hair, same kind of clothing, same interests and ideals — and their deeds were the same.”

The jitters spread to neighboring Sweden, where one school was evacuated. Police arrested a 16-year-old boy after viewing a suspicious YouTube clip in which he posed with weapons. He was released after police said the video was just a prank. Police in both countries stepped up their surveillance of YouTube and other Web sites to monitor for signs of possible attack plans.

“We'd be looking to see if we can, by careful analysis, weed out some who would pose a potential threat,” said Tero Kuremaa, from the National Bureau of Investigation.

In Finland, police held two young men for questioning about threatening Internet postings, evacuated at least one school and detained a 15-year-old for allegedly sending threats to another school.

Meanwhile, investigators struggled to find the origin of the text messages that sparked fear among students.

“The text messages are threatening in nature and are causing fear and hysteria among young people, and we must stop them,” said Urpo Lintula, a spokesman for the regional police department that covers Kauhajoki.

He added that Finland saw a similar wave of threats after the November shooting.

Police, psychiatrists and social workers set up dozens of crisis help lines nationwide to deal with reported threats, calls for help and to provide counseling. The Finnish Red Cross closed down a chat line after 350 callers jammed switchboards.