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Two held for shooting imam in northern Sweden

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17:53 CEST+02:00
Two men have been arrested in connection with the attempted murder of an imam who remains in a coma nearly three months after being shot in the head in northern Sweden.

The two men, both of whom are in their 30s, were arrested in Skåne in southern Sweden on Tuesday.

They are suspected of involvement in the February 22nd shooting of Obydkhon Sobitkhony Nazarov, who had served as an imam in Strömsund, where he has lived since coming to Sweden in 2006 as a political refugee from Uzbekistan.

According to prosecutor Krister Petersson, both suspects also hail from Uzbekistan.

One speaks English proficiently, as well as some Swedish, while the other speaks only Uzbek and Russian.

On Wednesday, they were transported from Skåne to Östersund in northern Sweden where investigators continue their efforts to figure out who was behind the shooting of Nazarov.

Nazarov is a known critic of the regime in Uzbekistan and came to Sweden along with scores of other political refugees after a 2005 crackdown by Uzbek government troops in Andijan in which hundreds of protesters were killed, although the exact number of casualties remains in dispute.

At the time of the incident, known as the Andijan massacre, the Uzbek government claimed the demonstrations were organized by Islamic radicals.

In the wake of the influx of Uzbek refugees, Strömsund, a town of just over 4,000 residents, has seen a rise in hate crimes ranging from racist graffiti to the burning down of a mosque in the city in 2008.

Prosecutors have filed a remand order for the two suspects, but the person who fired the shots that nearly killed Nazarov remains at large.

"Our understanding that there is another man who carried out the act but that he may no longer be in the country," Petersson told the TT news agency.

Investigators believe that Nazarov's political activities may have been the reason for why he was shot and opted to inform Swedish security service Säpo at an early stage of the investigation.

"It's clear that the imam was some sort of leader, a prominent person in Uzbekistan. The regime hasn't been too keen on him," said Petersson.

"If it's the case that someone wanted to get rid of him on a political level, that makes this a very sensitive issue."

A spokesperson from Amnesty in Sweden explained that many Uzbek exiles are under threat.

"There were previous speculations that the Uzbek security service may be behind it. If it turns out the Uzbek state is behind this it's important that it results in further action and not end with these two men," Amnesty's Elisabeth Löfgren told TT.

TT/The Local/dl

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