By Ulviyya Sadikhova, Non-Resident Analyst, INEGMA
Almost two weeks have passed since the Swedish people for the first time realized the real threat of radical terrorism reaching their country as well as their northern neighbors. “A Christmas gift” for “Sweden and Swedish people” was sent by a 28-year old Swedish citizen with an Iraqi background, Taymour Abdelwahab, who exploded a car and himself on central Stockholm’s streets. The attack was a clear signal that terrorism is not just for the United States and Great Britain but even relatively liberal and neutral countries such as Sweden. Full of police and security posts, and nervous, suspicious pedestrians – this is how Stockholm, one of the most ecological cities in the world, is looking before Christmas this year.
Despite the fact that no terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the attack, the Swedish newspaper “Aftonbladet” quoted a terrorism expert saying that Abdulwahab didn’t act alone and had allies – likely in Iraq, who supplied him with explosive materials and training for the attack. The Swedish security police (SÄPO), however, is still mostly silent on the details, stating that the investigation is continuing. Nevertheless, it remains unclear why Sweden was chosen as a first target for an attack in Scandinavia.
The Swedish approach towards Muslims and Islamic countries in particular is now exposed. Scrolling through European countries’ policies towards Muslims, Sweden deserves to be much higher up the list in comparison with her Danish neighbor or numerous other Western European countries for its relations with followers of the Muslim faith. The fact is recognized by Muslims themselves who believe that instead of “saving Muslim brothers and sisters” lives, Taymour Abdelwahhab has complicated the situation much more.
“Sweden is the best country for Muslims compared with other European states. The explosions will be a turning point for social relations between Muslims and Swedes: They will look at Muslims as a source of danger and fear” stated Imam Mahmoud Khalfi, a representative of the Islamic Association of Sweden. The Imam is sure that the Muslims will suffer not less than Swedes after the failed terror attack in Stockholm. “It will open the door for new troubles for Muslims who live here and Muslims themselves will be the offer,” Imam Khalfi thinks. “For Muslims it was a big surprise and, for sure, the reaction [in the Swedish community] will be negative.”
Like many others, Imam Khalfi does not see the justification the suicide bomber talked about in his voice message to “Sweden and Swedish people” sent to the central news agency TT and security police twenty minutes before the blasts. First, the bomber cited the presence of the Swedish military contingent within the ISAF in Afghanistan. The Swedish government since autumn has been discussing the withdrawal of the soldiers after 2014 – and restricting its involvement to civil affairs and police and armed forces training. On the other hand, the Green Party of Sweden together with their colleagues from the Left Party and Social Democrats have been calling to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan from 2013.
Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, argued that his country was in Afghanistan not for the purpose of winning the war, but to help peace building efforts on the basis of the UN mandate. To him it seemed strange that Swedish soldiers’ presence in Afghanistan was a cause of irritation for extremists considering Swedish forces are much less often involved in military operations or the killing of civilians in the country – particularly in contrast to other deployed nations.
Second, the issue of revenge for the publication of caricatures humiliating the Prophet Mohamed by famous Swedish caricaturist Lars Vilks was cited by the bomber. As a democratic country, Sweden holds freedom of speech dearly. As a country open to every religion and belief, this freedom is a fundamental principle – and it is applicable not just to Muslims but to followers of all religions. If Sweden had been targeting Muslims as such, they would not have published photographs of a dead Palestinian whose organs had been removed by Israeli soldiers. This has created a diplomatic crisis in Israeli-Swedish relations but Swedish authorities refused to make an apology of any kind. They referred to Sweden’s tradition as an open country that supports democratic values. Sweden in fact has been one of the most active supporters of an independent Palestinian state, often calling for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
The terrorist attack has set up an important dilemma for the Swedish government – on how to proceed with an immigration policy for the future. Xenophobic Swedish government officials and others are calling for a revision of the national immigration policy. Some have gone to the extent of stating that the event “proved” the weakness of the current approach towards the newly arriving migrants. Claiming they had “warned” the government of this, these officials are now calling for special debates in parliament on violent manifestations of religious extremism. The government is now being pressed to think about how to deal with immigrants in the future – especially those coming from the conflict zones in the Middle East – so that a second home-grown so-called “Taymur Abdelwahab” does not emerge.
According to SÄPO’s latest report, there are around 200 religious extremists linked to extremist organization in the Middle East who have lived in Sweden since 2009. According to authorities, a whopping 70-80 percent of them are ready to take radical actions on the orders of several well-known terrorist networks that preach violent jihad. The fact that Abdelwahab supposedly trained in Iraq and Yemen and referred to the “Islamic state” in his voice message lends weight to the idea that he was in collaboration with groups closely affiliated with Al-Qaida and its ideology.
The explosions in Stockholm have shocked not only the Scandinavian people but all of Europe – Abdelwahab lived and studied in Britain for ten years for example. According to his friends and relatives, he was able to get in touch with religious extremists on a regular basis. The recent attack and its associated facts suggest that the terror threat is threatening not to any particular country in Europe but that none of the European countries are now immune to attack.