After Its Worst Peacetime Attack, Sweden Strikes a Defiant Tone
Sweden’s government is doing everything it can to ensure its deadliest attack in about seven decades doesn’t lead to a mood of fear that would result in a more closed society.
“We will not bow down to terrorism,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Saturday. “Sweden will be an open and safe country.”
The Social Democratic premier, in power since 2014, spoke at the scene of the attack, which left at least 4 people dead and 15 injured after a man hijacked a truck and barreled through Stockholm’s busiest pedestrian shopping street on Friday afternoon. Police have arrested one suspect, a 39-year-old man originally from Uzbekistan, and are still investigating whether more people were involved. There’s a high level of confidence that the authorities have found the right man.
“There is nothing to indicate that we have arrested the wrong person,” National Police Commissioner Dan Eliasson said at a press conference on Saturday. “On the contrary, suspicions have been strengthened as the investigation continues.”
Despite the state of high alert, with parts of Stockholm closed off, Swedes defied police orders to avoid the city center the day after the attacks. People gathered at the scene of the carnage, turning construction fences into a wall of flowers as they paid tribute to the dead. Along with the prime minister, Crown Princess Victoria and opposition politicians joined the crowds. Restaurants and cinemas reopened on Saturday and sporting events went ahead as planned, albeit amid increased vigilance.
Prosecutors and police declined to comment on any possible links to radical groups such as Islamic State, citing the continuing investigation. But the prosecutors said the “modus operandi” indicated that this was a terrorist act designed to “incite fear.”
Stockholm is the latest in a list of European capitals to have been targeted in similar attacks. Last month, a terrorist in London drove a car into pedestrians on a bridge before fatally stabbing a police officer outside parliament, leaving five dead. Last year, trucks plowed through crowds in Berlin and Nice, killing multitudes.
Friday’s attack took place just one block away from the scene of a suicide bombing in 2010, which injured two people and left the perpetrator dead. That act was inspired by Islamist extremism.
But as condolences peter out, the nation could once again find itself the focus of a debate that seeks to link immigration with terrorism and crime. The country of 10 million has received about a quarter of a million people seeking asylum in recent years, before restricting inflows in late 2015. The influx coincided with a rise of support for an anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, which holds 47 seats in Sweden’s 349-member parliament.
President Donald Trump, who is struggling to get a U.S. travel ban that targets six Muslim-majority nations through legal hurdles, has singled out Sweden in a number of tweets, alleging the country is failing to cope with a record inflow of migrants. Sweden’s establishment politicians have rejected the characterization.
Nevertheless, the government and the opposition have both called for increased efforts to combat increasing gang violence and to better integrate a growing number of second-generation Swedes who have been marginalized.
For now, there’s a political detente. Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats party, has so far refrained from using the incident as an opportunity to rail against the country’s immigration policy, calling the attack “horrible” on Twitter. Center-right opposition politicians emphasized that now was a time to show national unity, praising the premier for his handling of the situation.
Lofven said Friday’s attack brought out Sweden’s strengths.
“In these 24 hours, Sweden has shown itself from its best side,” he said. “Helping each other, supporting each other, opening their homes to others. And that shows the strength of our country. No one can ever take that strength away from us.”
on this story: Jonas Bergman, Niclas Rolander