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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Trial starts against man responsible for ramming stolen truck

The Uzbek national is charged with terror-related murder

Tow trucks move the beer truck that crashed into the Ahlens department store after plowing down Drottninggatan Street in central Stockholm on 08 April 2017. Five people were killed and 15 injured in the suspected terror attack. Maja Suslin / EPA
Tow trucks move the beer truck that crashed into the Ahlens department store after plowing down Drottninggatan Street in central Stockholm on 08 April 2017. Five people were killed and 15 injured in the suspected terror attack. Maja Suslin / EPA

The trial of an Uzbek man who has confessed to ramming a stolen truck into a crowd in downtown Stockholm last year, killing five and injuring 14, started on Tuesday under heavy security.

Rakhmat Akilov appeared before the Stockholm District Court where he is charged with terror-related murder and attempted murder. The prosecution has requested that he gets a life sentence and is extradited from Sweden.

Wearing a green fleece jacket, Mr Akilov was flanked by his defense lawyers. He has said he wanted to punish Sweden for participating in the international coalition against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Throughout the nearly 10-month investigation, Mr Akilov has been cooperative, according to his lawyer and the prosecution.

Prosecutor Hans Ihrman described how Mr Akilov drove a stolen beer truck into a crowd of shoppers on a busy shopping street outside an upscale department store in Stockholm's city center. Mr Akilov was arrested hours later.

"Yes, it was Akilov who drove the truck that day," his defense lawyer, Johan Eriksson, told the court.

Five people were killed — a British man, a Belgian woman and three Swedes, including an 11-year-old girl.

"The case is about 40 seconds that changed forever the lives of those who were on Drottninggatan" that day, prosecutor Hans Ihrman said.

Three interpreters were at hand during the trial, expected to end on May 9. A verdict is expected before the summer.

In a room adjacent to the 90-seat court room, relatives were listening quietly, some in each other's arms, behind safety glass.

Inside the main court room, Mr Akilov stared at a screen where footage from the attack — including those he made while driving the truck — were shown. While the prosecutor gave details about how Mr Akilov used 53 SIM cards and social media like Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, Facebook and Zello, he looked at papers calmly.

Mr Akilov had said he had offered ISIL to carry out the attack in Stockholm on behalf of the group. It was not clear whether the group had accepted his offer.

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Investigators have found internet chat logs with unknown people in which Mr Akilov discussed becoming a martyr and swore allegiance to ISIL between January 12, 2017, and the attack on April 7, as well as a memory card with "material that can be connected to IS," including execution videos.

The construction worker, who was 39 at the time of the attack, was subject to deportation from Sweden ahead of the attack as his asylum application had been rejected.

Mr Akilov had been ordered to leave Sweden in December 2016. Instead, he went underground, eluding authorities' attempts to track him down. Sweden's domestic intelligence agency has said it had nothing indicating he was planning an attack.

The attack had shocked Swedes who pride themselves on their open-door policies toward migrants and refugees, and many expressed fears that something had gone badly wrong.

In 2015, a record 163,000 asylum-seekers arrived in the country — the highest per capita rate in Europe. The government responded by tightening border controls and curtailing some immigrant rights.

Officials have acknowledged the difficulty of keeping tabs on asylum-seekers who have been ordered to leave the country after their applications were turned down.

Security was high on Tuesday, with heavily armed police officers and scores of reporters going through metal detectors before entering the courtroom.

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