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STOCKHOLM SUICIDE BOMBING

IMMIGRANT

Sweden’s tolerance ‘at risk’ following attack

While Muslims in Sweden have denounced the country's first suicide bombing, experts warn that Sweden’s far-right may try to exploit the attack in a bid to polarise the nation, AFP’s Rita Devlin Marier explains.

Sweden's tolerance 'at risk' following attack
Tomas Oneborg/SvD (File); Fredrik Persson/Scanpix

A man strongly believed to be Taimour Abdulwahab blew up his car and then himself in a busy shopping quarter of central Stockholm Saturday. He killed only himself, but narrowly missed wreaking havoc among Christmas shoppers.

Abdulwahab had been living in Britain in recent years, where he studied at university, but media reports said he had arrived in Sweden from Iraq as a child, growing up in a small town a three-hour car ride from Stockholm.

The attacks were immediately and widely denounced by Sweden’s Muslim community, with condemnations from many Muslim groups and several small peace protests.

But the clearest message came perhaps on Tuesday, when Hassan Mussa, one of Sweden’s most influential clerics, issued a fatwa — an Islamic ruling — clearly condemning the attack.

“It is forbidden to accept what has happened or try to justify it,” said Moussa.

“Those who accept it or justify it are as guilty as the perpetrator himself,” he added, according to Swedish radio’s translation.

But the fact that a Swedish-raised man blew himself in the name of Islam — as he understood it — has challenged Sweden’s tradition of tolerance, said respected Islamologist Jan Hjärpe.

“This (attack) in Stockholm is used to point to all the Muslims in Sweden and say they are dangerous,” Hjärpe told AFP.

A report released Wednesday by Sweden’s intelligence agency Säpo suggested this kind of extremism was very are: it estimated only about 200 extremists with the potential for violence among the Muslim population.

On that evidence, Hjärpe insisted, they “do not represent the huge majority of the Muslims in Sweden.”

Even the audio message attributed to the bomber, sent out shortly before Saturday’s attack, appeared to acknowledge this lack of radicalism, said Hjärpe.

“You could hear he was quite angry that the Muslims in Sweden were not interested in going into a jihad,” he pointed out.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt while condemning the attack, warned against drawing hasty conclusions, and in his comments he stressed the tolerance that underscores Swedish society.

But Malena Rembe, chief analyst at Säpo’s counter-terrorism unit, warned that this tolerance was increasingly being challenged.

With the far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats entering parliament for the first time after September’s election, the country was moving towards greater polarisation, she cautioned Wednesday.

The increase in Islamophobic rhetoric from the far-right would put Sweden’s tradition for open, tolerant diaologue, under pressure, she warned.

“What we’ve seen in other countries where you have a more polarised debate — where you have more open xeonphobia or Islamophobia — is that it tends to push people into movements because they feel isolated in their own society and they feel included in these extremist environments,” she told AFP.

“An increased polarisation in discussions would perhaps further stigmatise individuals — and stigmatised individuals tend to be recruitable … It is extremely important to ensure a nuanced discussion,” she said.

Just days after Saturday’s attack, the Sweden Democrats called for a parliamentary debate on the problem of Islamic extremism: the other parties rejected the idea, reluctant to let them exploit the situation.

But the reluctance to confront extremist ideas carried its own dangers, said one analyst.

“It’s sort of reflective of the sensitivities of the issues, but also of the consensus nature of Sweden,” security expert Magnus Ranstorp, of Sweden’s defence college, told AFP.

Until recently, even problems surrounding immigration and integration were only marginally debated here, and the far-right’s entry into parliament came as a shock for many people, said Ranstorp, a specialist in Islamist movements.

“By avoiding the debate, you inflate the issues … If you stifle part of the debate it can become more bent up, many issues rolled into one,” Ranstorp said.

“Everyone is tip-toeing around the fire, and therefore you don’t discuss the issue realistically,” he added.

Thus the bomber, despite failing to create the carnage he was aiming for, might have achieved one of his goals.

“I see him as someone who come from the outside (Britain) in here and very deliberately targeted Sweden to create a lot of polarisation, a lot of reaction,” Ranstorp said.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Sweden Democrat politician charged for posting Hitler tribute

A politician for the populist Sweden Democrat party has been charged with hate crimes after his social media account posted a picture of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and compared black people to monkeys.

Sweden Democrat politician charged for posting Hitler tribute

Mikael Lundin, the deputy chair of the Sweden Democrats in the city of Östersund in northwest Sweden, was charged with hate crimes after the organisation Näthatsgranskaren reported him to the police for a series of posts made by his profile on the Russian social media group VK. 

The posts included a series of pictures praising Hitler, including one with the words “our oath: all for Germany”, and one comparing black people with apes, according to the prosecutor in the case. 

He also in 2017 posted a picture which called for Sweden’s then Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven to be assassinated. 

Lundin denies making the posts, claiming that someone in his household may have been using his account. 

“I cannot give away that much now, but a lot of things are going to come out during the court case,” he told the anti-extremist website Expo. “It may be that someone has logged into my account and posted stuff up there.” 

In his interview with the police, Lundin said that he suspected that either someone in his household had shared the posts, or that he had been hacked. 

An analysis of Lundin’s VK account shows that he is closely linked to members of the extreme neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), with the extremist group’s leader Simon Lindberg and its parliamentary leader Pär Öberg both among his friends. 

The Sweden Democrats called the posts that Lundin is accused of making as “unusually distasteful and serious”, and said it had opened an investigation into whether Lundin should have his membership annulled. 

“There are reasons to doubt the credibility of the explanations which have been given and the party has, as a result, decided to open an investigation into him in its membership committee,” Ludvig Grufman, a press secretary for the party, said. “The individual in question has also been encouraged to resign from his party posts.” 

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