What happened in the Stockholm ‘terror attack’?
For plenty of Swedish residents the idea of a terror attack on home soil was unimaginable…until today.
At least four people are reported dead and many more injured after a terror attack that saw a hijacked truck ram into shoppers and pedestrians at Ahlens department store in Drottninggatan, in the center of the city, at around 3pm local time.
Three men jumped out from inside and opened fire before trying to stab pedestrians, witnesses said. Two men were tackled to the ground and arrested but a third individual was able to escape the scene. A third terror suspect was arrested after a five-hour manhunt.
Images from the scene showed black smoke rising from the area of the crash. Police later ordered the evacuation of Stockholm’s main train station and the city’s metro was shut down. The Swedish Parliament was on lockdown, according to news reports. Train service had resumed by the evening, but the police, who blocked off the affected area, urged people to stay at home and avoid the city center.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said it appeared the crash was a terror attack and the country’s intelligence service said there was a large number of citizens injured. As the Prime Minister laid a bouquet of red roses and lit a candle outside the Ahlens store. He said: “We know that our enemies are these atrocious murderers and not each other.”
Sweden is frequently ranked among the safest and most peaceful countries in the world. Unlike several of their European brethren, there is no history of Swedes being killed at the hands of Islamic extremists in their home country. However, as of late, Islamic extremism has, unfortunately, become more widespread, particularly in Sweden’s major cities. As is the case with several other locations throughout Europe, the Syrian refugee crisis has not helped quell this escalating wave of extremism.
The Swedish Security Service (Säpo), in the beginning of 2015, published a press release using the words “historic challenge” to describe the threat from violent Islamism. Already in May 2015 the head of Säpo, Anders Thornberg, expressed doubts that the agency could handle the situation if the recruitment of jihadists in Sweden continued or increased.
Gothenburg, for example, has been having major problems. In November 2015, there were reports that 40% of the 300 Swedish jihadists in Syria and Iraq came from Gothenburg, an estimated 150 have since returned, according to Sweden’s security service (Säpo). The only country that has, per capita, more of its citizens as jihadists in Iraq and Syria than Sweden, is Belgium.
Sweden is trying to fight against these terrorists, but it often seems as if the key players in the country have no understanding of what the threats are or how to deal with them. A Swedish minister has been branded “ignorant” and “amateurish” after she suggested municipalities were expected to help integrate Islamic State fighters to the Scandinavian country.
In a recent interview, Alice Bah Kuhnke, minister of Culture and Democracy made the remark as she was quizzed on how Sweden should deal with jihadi defectors by the state broadcaster SVT. Ms Kuhnke said: “First of all if there are suspicions of crimes, they need to be investigated. And any such crimes should be punished. But after that we need structures locally, such as social services, around our country to integrate them back into our democratic society.”
Experts in Sweden’s security apparatus have clearly expressed that radical Islam is a clear and present danger to the security of Sweden, but sadly the politicized debate about Islamic terrorism does not seem capable of absorbing this warning. One can therefore only question if Sweden seriously wants to fight the threats that such extremists present.
The failure to prioritize the fight against terrorism is the reason Sweden is, and continues to be, a magnet for such activity. While Swedes appear to be divided on how to respond to the growing threat of Islamization in their country, what is clear is that discussions about terrorism are no longer focused on what’s happening abroad.
Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is an OpsLens contributor, a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. She has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany.