Terrorism in Sweden

Lessons of the country's first-ever suicide bombing

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A 28 year-old Iraqi-born man living in Sweden, Taimour al-Abdaly, killed himself in a suicide bombing in Stockholm this weekend, minutes after a separate car bomb had gone off. The explosions injured two people but killed only al-Abdaly. The act, though ineffective, was Sweden's first suicide bombing. Swedish police suspect that al-Abdaly was responsible for the car bomb as well as a threatening message sent to Swedish media. Here is what we know about the incident, what terrorist experts suspect about the incident, and what lessons we can draw from it.

  • 'Lone Wolf' Probably Not Connected to Terror Groups  "Swedish investigators think there is probably no al-Qaeda involvement in the incident, as al-Qaeda never sent out precise warnings like [he] did yesterday," Terrorism expert Florian Flade blogs. "The attacker seems to fit into the category of the 'lone wolf', a tactic highly promoted and encouraged by al-Qaeda." Flade calls him "just the latest example in a long line of 'lone wolves', starting with failed Shoe-Bomber Richard Reid, the Arkansas shooter Abdulhakim, Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hassan and others."
  • How He Could Have 'Radicalized' and Trained  "I personally think it is very likely that he did [receive training in the Middle East], not just because he says so himself, but also because a suicide operation requires a very high level of radicalization, of the kind that usually develops through social interaction," terrorism expert Thomas Hegghammer writes. "If he did train, it was most likely in Iraq." However:
If a bigger group were involved, we wouldn't have had the makeshift audiostatement before the incident, but a more elaborate video released some time afterward. The bombing device would also have been much more effective. My guess--and I stress that this is pure speculation--is that Taimour initially radicalised primarily on the Internet and then went on a short trip to Iraq to experience the real thing. In the field, he radicalized further, learned to make bombs, and decided to return home and blow himself up there, possibly with the help of a close friend or two.
  • Sweden's Record of Tolerance and Peace  "The blasts have caused widespread consternation in Sweden. The country has long prided itself on having created a tolerant and peaceful society at home, and on having avoided involvement in the upheavals that have ravaged much of Europe in modern times, including World War II," write The New York Times' John Burns and Ravi Somaiya. "Until Saturday, it had escaped the bombings that have hit several other European capitals since the 9/11 attacks." Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt "appealed to Swedes not to jump to 'the wrong conclusions' or allow preliminary reports about the explosions to stir fresh tensions over Sweden's growing immigrant population, including about 450,000 Muslims."
  • Will Swedes Give Up Freedom for Security?  Time's Eben Harrell asks of the "cosy, comfortable" country: "Can Sweden continue to guard civil liberties while meeting 21st century security threats?" He refers to the Patriot Act Congress passed in the U.S. after 9/11. "Responding to its own terror threat, Britain has expanded police powers to undertake spot searches of pedestrians, set up extensive video surveillance networks and extend the period for which suspects can be detained without charge. Now, Sweden, too, may face the dilemma of balancing individual liberty with collective security."
  • Reminder of What Free Societies Must Endure  "We've been lucky in two respects," argues Outside the Beltway's James Joyner.
First, most of the terrorist attacks in the West since the 9/11 attacks--now more than nine years ago--have been spectacularly inept. Second, we've thus far been spared by the classical suicide bombers of the type that have plagued Israel for something like a quarter century. Given that the security measures needed to defend against the latter are so onerous that they're intolerable in a free society--indeed, a society which would tolerate them for more than the occasional high value target could not reasonably be described as 'free'--it's only a matter of time.
  • The Attacker's Last Words  Terrorism expert Aaron Zelin posts the message sent out to the Swedish media:

Now your children, daughters and sisters will die, just like our brothers, sisters, and children.

Our actions will speak louder than words. As long as you don't stop your war against Islam, mocking the Prophet, and your stupid support for the Pig Vilks.

Now it's time to strike, don’t wait any longer. Come forward with whatever you've got, even if it’s only a knife. I know you've got more coming up.

Don't fear anybody, don't fear anyone.

Apologies to my family: I never went to the Middle East for work or to make money. I went for jihad.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.