x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Swedish blasts stoke terrorism fear

European fears of pre-Christmas terrorist attacks by militants have been heightened by two explosions in Stockholm that killed a suspected suicide bomber and slightly injured two people.

The area in Stockholm targeted by a suspected suicide attack, the first of its kind in a century.
Claudio Bresciani / AP
The area in Stockholm targeted by a suspected suicide attack, the first of its kind in a century. Claudio Bresciani / AP

BERLIN // European fears of pre-Christmas terrorist attacks by Islamic militants have been heightened by two explosions in Stockholm that killed a suspected suicide bomber and slightly injured two people.

If confirmed as a suicide bombing, it would be the first such attack in the Nordic country.

"We are investigating this as a terror crime according to Swedish law. We are still investigating the case. In this situation, we have not raised the security [threat] level," Anders Thornberg, a security police official, told a news conference in Stockholm yesterday.

Police confirmed a link between Saturday's attack and a warning that had been sent to police and a news agency minutes before the blasts, in which the writer claimed to have visited the Middle East "for jihad". The warning referred to Sweden's soldiers in Afghanistan and a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed that outraged the Muslim world.

The Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, yesterday condemned the attack but warned against speculation that "could lead to conclusions that create tension which paints pictures that are then difficult to change," he said.

The first explosion sent shoppers running for cover in the busy street of Drottninggatan at about 4.50pm local time on Saturday when a car containing gas canisters burst into flames, injuring two passers-by. Minutes later, a young man blew himself up in a pedestrian zone 200 metres away. Local media reports said explosives experts equipped with a remote control robot found that the man had been carrying a device made up of pipe bombs and nails. Not all the bombs detonated.

One witness, a paramedic, told Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish newspaper, that he saw a severely injured man in his 20s lying on his back on the pavement. "It looked as if the man had carried something that exploded on his stomach … My first thought was that the man was a terrorist," said the witness, who identified himself only as Pascal.

"His chest moved a couple of times, but I couldn't get a pulse. I removed a [keffiyeh] scarf from his face … but it was too late."

The shops around him were not damaged, the witness said.

Swedish police said the blasts appear to have been an isolated act of terrorism and that they did not see an acute risk of further attacks.

Gabriel Gabiro, a freelance journalist, was inside a store on the opposite side of the street from the second explosion and saw people running from the site.

"There was a man lying on the ground with blood coming out in the area of his belly, and with his personal belongings scattered around him," Mr Gabiro told the Associated Press. He said the blast shook the store he was in. "Then there was smoke and gunpowder coming into the store."

Authorities believe the e-mail message was sent by the bomber. It referred to Sweden's contribution to the US-led Nato force in Afghanistan, where it has 500 soldiers, and also mentioned controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks.

"The time has come to take action," TT, the news agency that received the e-mail, quoted the message as saying. "Now your children, daughters and sisters, shall die like our brothers and sisters and children are dying.

"Our actions will speak for themselves as long as you do not end your war against Islam and the insult against the Prophet and your stupid support for that pig Vilks."

In 2007, Mr Vilks depicted the Prophet with the body of a dog in a cartoon that outraged the Muslim world. Most Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam as offensive.

Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, said in a message sent from his Twitter account on Saturday: "Most worrying attempt at terrorist attack in a crowded part of central Stockholm. Failed - but could have been truly catastrophic."

Sweden raised its terror threat alert level from low to elevated in October because of "a shift in activities" among Swedish-based groups that could be plotting attacks there.

Authorities declined to identify the bomber. An unconfirmed report by the online service of Der Spiegel, a German news magazine, said yesterday that the attacker was an Iraqi national who had been active on social networking websites, where he had criticised the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Europe has been on alert for terrorist attacks for months, and there have been a series of arrests of suspected militants in various countries in recent weeks.

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

 

* With additional reporting from Associated Press