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OFFBEAT

Bank robber in custody following ‘religious awakening’

Police in western Sweden may soon be able to close their files on a daring four-year old bank robbery after one of the thieves experienced a religious salvation during his time on the run.

It was back in 2005 when men on mopeds attacked two guards and made their way into the Sparbanken Gripen in Ängelholm.

The assailants then sped off on their motorbikes with several million kronor from the bank’s vaults.

Three months after the caper, an arrest warrant was issued for a 30-year-old man suspected of carrying out the daring heist.

But police ran into a number of roadblocks during the investigation’s early phases, and by 2008 it looked as if the crime would remain unsolved, the Helsingborgs Dagblad (HD) newspaper reports.

But police caught a lucky break last year when the 30-year-old suspect unexpectedly contacted Sweden’s embassy in Brazil, confessed to the theft, and then asked to return to Sweden to atone for his crime.

He later explained that he had had fallen in love with a Brazilian woman following the robbery. The couple then moved to Brazil, where the 30-year-old began studying religion.

“He had studied with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which caused him to reassess his life. Now he sees that he must follow the country’s laws in order to be a Jehovah’s Witness and as a result wants to pay for his crime,” the 30-year-old’s defence attorney, Niclas Elison, told the newspaper.

The extradition process has taken a year, but on Monday the man stood before the Helsingborg District Court and listened as a judge ordered him remanded into custody.

While the robbery is more or less solved, authorities are still working to recover the 2 million kronor ($288,000) taken in the heist.

They are also hoping the 30-year-old man will help them locate his accomplices in the crime, despite his reluctance to do so.

“He’s willing to confess to his part of the crime, but isn’t willing to speak about any accomplices or about the money,” said Elison.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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