Saturday, April 08, 2017

08-Apr-17: Swedes struggle to understand Stockholm vehicle-ramming killings

Stockholm aftermath [Image Source]
In Sweden, flags are flying at half-mast today (Saturday) to express shared grief at the killings of four innocent and unsuspecting people yesterday afternoon. Fifteen more were injured.

Around 3:00 pm Friday, a stolen beer-delivery truck driven by a masked man hurtled directly into a crowd of shoppers on Stockholm's busiest shopping street, Drottninggatan, before ploughing into the side of the Åhléns mall. The truck caught fire and the driver fled on foot, eventually trying to get onto a subway and then a bus, evidently bleeding all the way according to this Swedish news report.

All the while, the city was in lock-down; public transport was shut down and the city center was paralyzed by police and security forces activity. Swedish government offices, situated a block from Drottninggatan, approximately 700 meters from where the attack took place, were evacuated [Aftonbladet].

The Swedish authorities are, naturally enough, calling it a terrorist attack.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, a 39-year-old man from Uzbekistan was arrested after a police operation in Märsta, a suburb of Stockholm near Arlanda airport. Swedish public broadcaster SVT said a second man, linked to the first, was arrested later in the northern suburb Hjulsta. Writing about the main suspect, Aftonbladet says:
In his social media accounts the man has expressed positive views of the terror organisation IS, and also ”liked” a picture on Facebook of bloody victims taken seconds after the explosion at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. One of the man’s acquaintances..: ”He has four children and works in construction... He never speaks about politics or religion, the only thing he talks abut is getting more work so that he can send more money to his family”...
A Reuters report from Saturday afternoon says:
"Nothing indicates that we have the wrong person, on the contrary, suspicions have strengthened as the investigation has progressed," Dan Eliasson, head of Sweden's national police, told a news conference on Saturday. The man, detained on Friday night on terrorism charges after the attack in the heart of the capital, appeared to have acted alone but "we still cannot rule out that more people are involved," he said... Police did not name the detainee, but said he was from the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan and that he had seemed peripheral in intelligence reports. "We received intelligence last year, but we did not see any links to extremist circles," Sapo security police chief Anders Thornberg said. Eliasson said there were "clear similarities" to an attack last month in London in which six people died, including the assailant who drove a hired car into pedestrians on a bridge. Vehicles have also been used as weapons in Nice and Berlin in the past year in attacks claimed by Islamic State.
Daily Mail UK, quoting Swedish media reports, says today that police investigating the attack have arrested six more suspects after three were bundled out of a car and police raided a property 12 miles from the attack scene.
Saturday evening the police stopped a car on the island of Kungsholmen, a central part of Stockholm, and detained three persons in connection to the attack. Police had to smash the window on the driver’s side of the car and at least two of the persons in the car were wrestled to the ground by police wearing plainclothes. [Aftonbladet, April 8, 2017]
The loss of life in the attack could easily have been much greater. Bomb disposal experts are reported to have found an improvised explosive device packed into a suitcase inside the hijacked beer truck. In Daily Mail's words:
The discovery of the bomb points to a planned terror attack rather than an opportunistic attack. It is not known why the IED failed to detonate. 
According to Associated Press:
The prime minister urged citizens to "get through this" and strolled through the streets of the capital to chat with residents... [But] many in Sweden were shocked by the attack, questioning whether Swedish society — considered democratic and egalitarian — had failed in some way.
BBC points out that
Sweden is believed to have the highest number of Islamic State group fighters per capita in Europe. About 140 of the 300 who went to Syria and Iraq have since returned, leaving the authorities to grapple with how best to reintegrate them into society.

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