Persson holds steady after terror warning

It is not often that Sweden is mentioned in the same breath as the ‘war on terror’. But this week the threat of terrorism has been creeping up the Swedish political agenda. While a video released by Osama Bin Laden appeared to confirm that Sweden was not under threat, the American State Department had other ideas.

The US embassy in Helsinki has warned American citizens throughout the Nordic-Baltic region to be on their guard for terrorist attacks, reported Monday’s Dagens Nyheter.

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson professed himself to be “worried” by the warning, but said that he would not raise Sweden’s level of readiness for attack. He added that there was “no reason to over-dramatize the situation.”

The warning on the website of the embassy in Finland urges Americans, in that international language peculiar to bureaucrats, to be particularly vigilant “in centers of ground-based mass transit.”

Despite the fact that the warning appeared to cover the whole Nordic region, on Monday evening the US Embassy in Stockholm had no similar warning posted on its website, nor did embassies of other countries appear to be urging particular vigilance.

A spokesman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry told DN that they were following developments, but pointed out that the ‘Nordic-Baltic region’ covered a pretty wide area, and it was therefore difficult to know what action to take.

Attack or no attack, Sweden certainly appears to have caught the eye of al-Qaeda. In a video first aired on Friday, Bin Laden appeared to use Sweden as an example of a country that was not under threat from his terror network. Addressing himself primarily to the American public in the run up to the presidential election, he asked, “If Bush argues that we hate freedom, maybe he could explain why we haven’t attacked Sweden, for example.”

This prompted a flurry of analysis in the Swedish press. DN seemed to ponder whether this meant that Sweden was now on the terror map. It noted that al-Qaeda had threatened Denmark and Norway in the past, but Sweden had been ignored.

Some experts who spoke to Expressen weren’t reading too much into the mention of Sweden. “It means nothing,” said terrorism expert Magnus Norell, explaining that Bin Laden was simply using Sweden as an example of a country that he perceived as small, innocent and unthreatening. For Magnus Ranstorp at St. Andrews University in Scotland, however, the speech had a more portentous side. “It would be better [for Sweden] to be outside his frames of reference entirely,” he said.

DN’s analysis included speculation that boyhood memories of Sweden might have prompted Bin Laden’s mention of the country. It noted claims that members of Bin Laden’s family had visited the town of Falun in 1971, although there appeared to be doubts as to whether fourteen-year old Osama was among them.