December 11th, 2010 started off as rather standard weekend for many Stockholm residents.
The city’s streets were bustling with shoppers out scooping up gifts and enjoying the brisk winter weather.
But shortly before 5pm on that Saturday, two blasts rattled Stockholm’s main shopping district on Drottninggatan.
The attack, perpetrated by Taimour Abdulwahab, an Iraqi-born Swede who was the only fatality caused by the twin blasts, may not have resulted in widespread casualties or physical damage.
But it forced many Swedes to face the realization that they were no longer safe from a brand of terror many thought would never disrupt their way of life in Sweden.
”I think prior to last year, Swedes often felt that they were living in their own little corner and that the rest of the world was a stormy place. The general view up until a year ago was probably that terrorism is something that happened to other people, somewhere else,” terror expert Magnus Ranstorp, tells The Local.
Ranstorp, from the Swedish National Defence College (Försvarshögskolan), believes the incident changed the way that Swedes perceived themselves by showing that the country was not immune to what was happening in the world.
The incident therefore came as a rude awakening for many Swedes, when they heard the seemingly unthinkable news that a suicide bomber had blown himself up in central Stockholm.
However, the fact that Abdulwahab failed to cause the widespread devastation likely made a huge difference in Swedes’ reactions to the bombing, according to Ranstorp.
”And in a worst case scenario this would have had ripple effects throughout Swedish society, triggering a polarization of the community or worse,” he explains, reflecting on what might had happened had Abdulwahab’s explosive devices detonated as planned.
Although information about the ongoing investigation would trickle out from time to time, the Swedish security service, Säpo, has been very quiet about the its findings up until last week.
Despite witness reports of an unidentified individual having taken pictures of Abdulwahab as he lay dying on a Stockholm sidewalk, Säpo remains of the opinion that there is nothing to indicate that Abdulwahab had any accomplices present at the site of the attack.
“Nothing points to anything else. We are still working on the question of whether or not he received financial or economic support,” said Säpo head Anders Danielsson said at the press conference.
Danielsson also said that there is no solid evidence indicating that Abdulwahab was a member of al-Qaeda.
But a Scottish probe into an alleged accomplice, Nasserdine Menni, whom Abdulwahab tried to call prior to the incident, indicates that some terror network may have been behind the attack.
According to Ranstorp, Säpo is playing down the possibility that Abdulwahab was not acting alone.
“It is a little bit like the case of Breivik, when the court says that he is not sane, that what happened is an unusual occurrence, the threat level seems lower,” Ranstorp says.
He also argued that the explosive device was too sophisticated for Abdulwahab not to have received training from somewhere.
“Säpo’s phrasing when talking about the incident indicates that it was a one-off, which is strange considering the many things pointing to this not being the case,” Ranstorp explains.
Although it was in the midst of the busy Christmas trade on the central Stockholm shopping street of Drottninggatan where Abdulawahab staged his attack, neither police nor shops are upping their security for this year’s holiday shopping rush.
“We are in close contact with police who judge the threat to be at a normal level. As far as we can see the threat has not been elevated. We have no reason to ask our members to increase their security because of that,” says Per Geijer, head of security at the Swedish Trade Federation (Svensk Handel), an organization representing the retail and wholesale trade in Sweden.
And shoppers making their way through central parts of town don’t seem overly concerned about their safety either.
Neither do they feel as if their life has changed much in the wake of last year’s attempted suicide bombing.
“You can’t walk around worrying about things that might happen, then you would wear a helmet all the time. If the threat level was different then maybe we’d notice it more,” said shopper Robin Tårda to The Local.
According to another shopper, Britt Tryding, the suicide attempt of 2010 seems like an isolated incident, unlikely to be repeated.
“It was unfortunate for the man in question, but it feels like it wasn’t really meant to be. Either he was clumsy, or something went wrong,“ she said
Tryding believes that Swedish society has changed since the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, but not due to Abdulwahab’s attack in Stockholm.
“We’re not very affected here. We need to cherish our free society in Sweden, that’s the most important,” she says.
According to Ranstorp, authorities still need to work pro-actively to ensure that, if another attack occurred, it wouldn’t cause violent reactions or a polarization of Swedish society.
However, he also thinks it’s a healthy sign that Swedes are not more concerned than they are.
“It is counterproductive to think or talk about this all the time. If nothing more happens for a long while, then that is certainly a good thing. The sense of security can be very brittle, but there is nothing gained by worrying about it,” he says.