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21 May 2024

Sweden holds minute of silence for truck attack victims

Photo: AFP


Swedes observed a minute of silence across the country on Monday for the victims of last week's truck attack by a Uzbek man whom police believe was a jihadist sympathiser.

A huge crowd gathered solemnly outside the Ahlens department store at the corner of the Drottninggatan pedestrian street, where a stolen beer truck ploughed down shoppers before slamming into the store's facade, killing four people and injuring 15.

Under grey and rainy skies, the crowd observed a minute of silence at noon (1000 GMT), many visibly moved with tears streaming down their cheeks as a sea of flowers and candles covered the ground.

Many thanked and hugged police officers guarding the scene, some even offering them flowers, for their widely-praised response to the attack.  

At the same time, an official ceremony was held outside Stockholm's City Hall, attended by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, King Carl XVI Gustaf and most of the royal family, and Stockholm mayor Karin Wanngard.

"We will never give in to violence. We will never let terror prevail," Wanngard said. "Stockholm will remain an open and tolerant city."

To the families of the victims, Lofven said: "You are not alone, we are thinking of you. All of Sweden stands with you."

Suspect went underground

The motive of Friday's attack remains unknown, but the method resembled previous rampages using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, all of them claimed by the Daesh group.

Police are continuing their investigation into the main suspect, identified as a 39-year-old Uzbek who went underground when he received a deportation order after his permanent residency application was rejected.

Swedish media have identified the suspect as Rakhmat Akilov, a construction worker and father of four.

The far-right Sweden Democratic party, which until now has refrained from comment on the attack, on Monday blasted the authorities' failure to deport the suspect.

"It's a huge scandal if it's true," party leader Jimmie Akesson told the Aftonbladet daily. His party won almost 13 percent of votes in the 2014 legislative election.

"We need to detain people when there is a risk they will go underground, and there appear to be around 10,000 to 15,000 cases," Akesson said.

Sweden, a country of 10 million people, took in 244,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015, the highest per capita number in Europe.

On Sunday, the prime minister, who has beefed up border controls, also expressed "frustration".

"If someone has been rejected, they have to leave the country," Lofven told reporters.

'Mowed down the infidels'

On Sunday, up to 50,000 people gathered in Stockholm's Sergel Torg plaza for a "Lovefest" vigil to stand united against terrorism.

Arrested several hours after the attack, the suspect was to be formally remanded in custody by midday Tuesday at the latest.

The Uzbek national had expressed "sympathies for extremist organisations, including the Islamic State," senior police official Jonas Hysing told reporters.

The suspect has confessed to the crime and said he was "pleased with what he had done", Aftonbladet and the Expressen reported.

"I mowed down the infidels," he said, according to Aftonbladet on Monday, citing unidentified sources close to the investigation.

The suspect reportedly said he had received an "order" directly from Daesh to carry out the attack.

"The bombings in Syria have to end," he allegedly said.

Police confirmed the suspect had applied for a permanent residency permit in 2014, which the Migration Agency rejected in June 2016.

"In December 2016, he was informed by the Migration Agency that he had four weeks to leave the country. In February 2017, the case was handed over to the police to carry out the order, since the person had gone underground," Hysing said.

But police apparently never found the man.

Police said at the weekend they were confident the suspect in custody was the driver of the truck.

The four dead are two Swedes, one of them an 11-year-old girl, a British man, and a Belgian woman.

According to police, components were found in the stolen truck that could be used to make a "dangerous" object.

On Sunday, a second suspect was formally placed under arrest, Stockholm district court judge Helga Hullman told AFP, refusing to disclose any links between the two suspects.