Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Following the attack in Brussels, there is concern among Swedes that they may be targeted by terrorists.


STOCKHOLM — Outside Sweden’s national sports arena, two framed football shirts sit beneath a flag at half-mast, a memorial to the two fans killed by a terrorist in Brussels on Monday night, and a reminder to passers-by to be vigilant for follow-up attacks. 

Kent Åberg, a 62-year-old airport employee paying his respects, expressed his hope that this would be the final occurrence of such events. However, he also stated that he remains vigilant and cautious.

Tensions are high in Stockholm following the fatal shootings of two spectators before a soccer game in Brussels involving Sweden and Belgium. The gunman, a Tunisian refugee, stated on social media that he intentionally targeted Swedes as vengeance for Muslims. Law enforcement later killed the shooter.

After several months of increasing animosity towards Sweden, a violent incident occurred in which copies of the Quran were burned by radical activist Rasmus Paludan and later by Iraqi protester Salwan Momika. This act was accompanied by an ongoing false campaign online that falsely accuses Swedish authorities of kidnapping Muslim children, causing further damage to Sweden’s relationship with the Muslim community.

According to Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish Defense University, Sweden is considered a top target for terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. They are particularly focused on attacking Swedish interests both domestically and abroad, with public places such as football stadiums and music concerts being listed as priority targets.

One of the individuals affected by the assault on Monday was dressed in the recognizable yellow of Sweden’s soccer uniform. This has sparked a discussion in Sweden about the safety of wearing the team’s shirt or displaying any other symbols of national pride.

The Swedish Football Association has recommended that supporters refrain from wearing the team’s yellow shirt at future matches. However, during a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson declined to share his opinion after paying respects at the site of the shooting.

The speaker expressed the importance of restoring the ability for Swedes to travel within and outside of Sweden with pride in their nationality.

On Thursday, there was increased police presence in central Stockholm, particularly around the parliament and other prominent places such as the royal palace. After recent instances of Quran burnings, Sweden’s security service, Säpo, raised its terrorism threat level from 3 to 4 on a scale of 5. They also stated that Sweden is now considered a “priority” target for Islamist terrorists, rather than just a “legitimate” target.

Long-running threat

The city of Stockholm in Sweden has faced several traumatic incidents of terrorist attacks by Islamist groups in recent times.

In December 2010, a suicide bomber named Taimour Abdulwahab was killed by his own bomb while preparing to attack Christmas shoppers on Drottninggatan, a popular shopping street north of parliament. He had sent a message to Säpo before detonating the bomb, stating that his attack was in retaliation for Swedish troops in Afghanistan and drawings of the Prophet Muhammad by artist Lars Vilks.

The Swedish Parliament is honoring the victims of the Brussels terrorist attack with a memorial service in Stockholm, as shown by the lowered flags at half-mast.

In 2017, Rakhmat Akilov, a terrorist from Uzbekistan, carried out an attack on Drottninggatan. He drove a stolen truck at high speed through a pedestrianized area and crashed into a department store, resulting in the death of five people. Akilov claimed to support ISIS.

Today, physical obstacles, such as large concrete lions, have been put in place outside the department store and along Drottninggatan to avoid a recurrence. Additionally, a memorial for the victims is currently being built.

In recent times, Sweden has aimed to find a middle ground between safeguarding its people from acts of terrorism while also upholding their other freedoms, such as privacy and freedom of expression. In 2015, a counter-terrorism strategy was released with a focus on identifying and preventing Islamist attacks through the categories of “prevent,” “preempt,” and “protect.”

In late August, the government requested that the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention enhance collaboration among national agencies in order to combat radicalization and the dissemination of violent extremism.

The recent incidents of burning the Quran during the summer have once again drawn attention to the issue of combating terrorism. Leaders in Sweden are currently searching for a solution that effectively addresses the threat while also acknowledging the right to peaceful protest.

The main opposition party, the Social Democrats, are advocating for an investigation into the possibility of prohibiting the burning of the Quran under hate speech laws. Meanwhile, the largest party in government, Kristersson’s Moderate Party, seems to support revising the regulations concerning the right to protest.

In the immediate future, Kristersson and his administration’s main task is to ensure the safety of Swedish citizens without appearing to give in to terrorism or limit their freedoms.

According to Åberg, a football fan at the national stadium in Stockholm, it would be detrimental if Swedes stopped wearing their national football jersey at the memorial site.

He expressed that giving into fear would be a sign of defeat and that it is important to demonstrate strength and resilience as a nation.