Terror attack in the heart of Stockholm leaves country in shock

The truck attack on a pedestrian shopping street in Stockholm claimed four lives and wounded 15 people. Although a terror attack against a target in Sweden was expected it left the whole country in shock. Stockholm last Friday was a different city with people locked up at their jobs and without public transport while police was looking for the perpetrators. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement that “one of Europe’s most vibrant and colourful cities appears to have been struck by those wishing it – and our very way of life – harm.”

“We stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the people of Sweden and the Swedish authorities can count on the European Commission to support them in any which way we can. An attack on any of our Member States is an attack on us all.”

The Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven described the terror attack as aiming to “undermine democracy and divide people so that they’ll start hating and mistrusting each-other….but you’ll never subdue us. You cannot rule our lives. You’ll never win.”

The attack occurred on Friday afternoon (7 April) when a heavy truck delivering beers to a restaurant was hijacked by a man – with the driver trying in vain to stop him – and rammed into shoppers and tourists along a 500 meter long stretch of Drottninggatan, a popular shopping street in Stockholm.  

The rampage ended when the truck crashed into Åhlens department store near Sergels Torg. From there the perpetrator managed somehow to escape into the metro after brandishing a gun on the street. From footage in the metro a description of the man was distributed. He was spotted acting strangely in Märsta, a suburb north of Stockholm, and was caught by police.

The suspected perpetrator is described in Swedish media as a 39 old immigrant from Uzbekistan. It is not year clear if he has a permit living in Sweden or if he is an asylum seeker whose application has been rejected. Neighbours described him as an ordinary person working in construction to support his family, presumably in Uzbekistan.

However, it appeared quite quickly that he was not unknown to the Swedish security service after having expressed extreme pro-Islamist views on social media. According to a mapping carried out by the leading Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, he uploaded and shared material in support of the Islamic State and another extreme group called Hizb ut-tahrir.

This was apparently not enough for the Swedish security and intelligence services to intervene and apprehend him. Police and emergency services reacted quickly after the attack but the authorities were apparently taken by surprise. There was no police patrolling on the street and the barriers preventing traffic could not stop a truck.

Besides the driver of the truck, another man has also been arrested, but it is not yet known if they belong to the about 300 persons from Sweden who have joined foreign terrorist fighters from EU Member States to fight for the Islamic State. Approximately 30 % of the more than 5 000 terrorist fighters from EU have returned to Europe.

The car-ramming terrorist attack in Stockholm follows similar attacks in Jerusalem, Nice, Berlin and London. However, Sweden has not participated in the coalition in the war against the Islamic State and is known for its generous reception of migrants from the war-torn countries in the Middle East.

Whether or not the attack was carried out by a lonely self-radicalized wolf or planned by the Islamic State, Swedes ask themselves why innocent civilians in their capital were targeted by blind terror.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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