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Iceland gripped by rare murder investigation after woman’s body found on beach

Birna Brjansdottir, 20, was last seen on Jan. 14 after a night out at the bars in the country’s capital of Reykjavik.
Birna Brjansdottir, 20, was last seen on Jan. 14 after a night out at the bars in the country’s capital of Reykjavik. Handout

A rare murder case has gripped much of Iceland after the body of a woman was found on a beach in a country with one of the world’s lowest crime rates. The 20-year-old was missing for over a week.

Birna Brjansdottir was last seen on Jan. 14 after a night out at the bars in the country’s capital of Reykjavik.

Brjansdottir’s remains were found on Sunday after over 700 volunteers searched for the missing woman in what local media reported to be the largest search and rescue operation in the country’s history.

Speaking with British newspaper The Independent, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue said it was very rare for someone to disappear in Iceland.

“It’s very unique for a young woman to disappear in the middle of Reykjavik,” Porsteinn Gunnarsson said. “It’s very unusual. People do not just disappear here.”

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Iceland Magazine reported police used CCTV footage to trace Brjansdottir’s footsteps and she was last seen at 5:25 a.m. Footage shows a red car was spotted in the same area moments after the woman’s disappearance.

The woman’s shoes were later found on a dock in a port just south of Reykjavik, not too far from where Greenlandic trawler was moored, the magazine reported. Police then located a red rental car that was traced to two sailors aboard the vessel.

According to AFP, the vessel lifted anchor a few hours after Brjansdottir went missing. Iceland’s elite police force was dispatched to the ship by helicopter to question the crew. The vessel was ordered to return to the Icelandic capital and two of its crew members were taken into custody.

As AFP points out, the small country of 330,000 people has recorded an average of 1.8 murders per year since 2001. Police patrol the streets unarmed because of the low crime rate.

An employee at a local retailer told AFP that not much crime happens in the city.

“It’s a really safe country, no war or anything like that. The crime rate is low,” the 26-year-old salesman told the news agency.

Police are treating the case as a homicide but “currently it is not possible to determine the cause of death” AFP quoted a police statement as saying.

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No charges have been laid.