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Icelandic police continue to hold Greenlandic fishermen in suspicious death inquiry

Investigators are continuing to build their case after a week-long search to find a missing Icelandic woman ended with the discovery of her remains

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A week after she went missing, the body of Birna Brjánsdóttir (pictured above) was found today on a beach near the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík.

Investigators have yet to complete an autopsy, but Icelandic media report that police believe she was killed.

With the body located, focus will now again turn to determining Ms Brjánsdóttir’s whereabouts in the hours up to her death, and whether two crewmembers from a Greenlandic fishing vessel, detained in Iceland since Wednesday, played any role in the incident.

Suspicion that members of the crew of the Polar Nanoq might be involved in Mr Brjánsdóttir’s disappearance first emerged on Sunday, January 17, when closed-circuit television footage, recorded in the early morning hours of the previous day, showed her getting into a car that had been rented by one of the two crewmembers.

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The images are the last known to have been taken of Ms Brjánsdóttir, and police are now concentrating their efforts on determining where she was between the hours of 7 and 11:30am.

The two men were initially among three taken into custody after the Polar Nanoq, en route from Iceland to Greenland, was forced to return to Iceland after being boarded at sea by Icelandic police officers.

The third man, as well as a fourth, who was later arrested on charges of drug smuggling, have been released.

The two men in currently in custody maintain their innocence.

Investigators initially focused on the Polar Nanoq after finding Ms Brjánsdóttir’s shoes near where the boat was moored in Reykjavík’s harbour. The last known location of her mobile telephone was reportedly in the same area.

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Police have reportedly been able to obtain mobile telephone data to determine the whereabouts of the two men, but say there is a gap of several hours Saturday morning they have yet to account for.

Yesterday, it was confirmed that DNA, taken from a blood stain found in the car, belonged to Ms Brjánsdóttir. 

The search for Ms Brjánsdóttir had become one of the biggest in Iceland’s history, with a reported 600 volunteers taking part in a massive search on Saturday. Local media outlets have been covering story heavily since Sunday, as concern about her whereabouts began to mount.

Initial reports of tension between Icelanders and Greenlanders living in Iceland were quickly responded to, first by leaders of the investigation, and later by Guðni Jóhannesson, the Icelandic president, who, in a statement to the media, urged Icelanders not to jump to conclusions about the arrests, or to implicate all Greenland in Ms Brjánsdóttir’s disappearance.

In Greenland, the arrests led Vittus Qujaukitsoq, a cabinet member whose portfolio includes foreign affairs and labour issues, to cancel an appearance at a major annual gathering in Norway.

This evening, after the discovery of Ms Brjánsdóttir’s remains was announced, a group of Nuuk residents organised a candlelight vigil. Several dozen people turned up in front of the Icelandic consulate in Nuuk to light candles and lay flowers alongside pictures of Ms Brjánsdóttir.

Photo: Magssanguaq Qujaukitsoq