- Rallies took place across Sweden after three mosques were attacked between Christmas Day and New Year's Day
- Some anti-racism campaigners claim of rise of nationalist Sweden Democrat party is to blame for increasing Islamphobia
- Sweden's Culture and Democracy Minister insists country is still a "paradise" for immigrants
The crowds in Stockholm waved placards and listened to speeches from leading figures within the city's Muslim community as they gathered on the cobbled streets outside the Royal Palace in the Swedish capital's Old Town, known as Gamla Stan.
The largest banner at the demonstation read: "Don't touch my mosque".
Anti-racism campaigner Yasin Ahmed, 43, told The Local he was "surprised and thrilled" that so many people had turned out for the event on a cold January 2nd.
"I came here because I am against the mosque attacks. They are not only attacks on mosques but also against Swedish democracy. I am a Swedish citizen first and I am also a Swedish muslim seeking to protect my rights and to show solidarity with others to deal with this Islamophobia".
"We want to send the message that these attacks on mosques… are a problem for all of society and not just Muslims," Mohammed Kharraki a spokesman for Sweden's Islamic Association told news the AFP news agency.
After Culture and Democracy Minister Alice Bah Kuhne took to the stand, she spoke to The Local and said that Sweden should still be seen as "a paradise" for immigrants from different nations despite the current tensions.
"The most important thing that we can do now, as a government, a people, and a country, is to really put the effort into making an action plan to change this," she said.
— Oliver Gee (@TheUppsalaKoala) January 2, 2015
Other rallies took place in Malmö and Gothenburg.
Swedish police are still searching for suspects linked to the third arson attack against a mosque in a week, which took place in Uppsala on Thursday amid growing tensions over the rise of a far right anti-immigration movement.
The mosque has since been covered in paper hearts from people pledging their support to muslims.
"People saw a man throwing something burning at the building," police in Uppsala said in a statement, adding that the mosque in eastern Sweden did not catch fire and that the suspect had left behind "a text on the door expressing contempt for religion."
A police spokesman told Swedish news agency TT that the burning object was a Molotov cocktail and that no one was in the building at the time.
Sweden's Islamic Association posted a photograph online of the main door of the mosque, which was emblazoned with the slogan "Go home Muslim shit”.
The police were alerted by passers-by, who reportedly witnessed the attack at around 5.30am.
"The crime has been classed as attempted arson, vandalism and incitement to hatred," police said, appealing for witnesses to come forward.
Uppsala mosque on Friday. Photo: TT
Thursday's attack in Sweden's fourth-largest city came just three days after a late-night blaze at a mosque in Eslöv in the south, which police suspect was also arson.
On Christmas Day, five people were injured when a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of a mosque in Eskilstuna, west of the capital Stockholm.
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven led condemnation of the latest attack.
"The most important thing now is that everyone distances themselves from this," he told the TT news agency.
"In Sweden no one should have to be afraid when they practice their religion," he added, saying the government would increase funding for securing places of worship.
According to the anti-racism magazine Expo, there have been at least a dozen confirmed attacks on mosques in Sweden in the last year and a far larger number are believed to have gone unreported.
"People are afraid, they fear for their safety," Mohammad Kharraki a spokesman for Sweden's Islamic Association told the AFP news agency.
"We've seen through history that people use violence as a way of polarising society against minorities.”
The attacks come as debate intensifies in Sweden over immigration and the integration of asylum seekers in the traditionally tolerant Nordic country, which is expected to receive more than 100,000 asylum applications this year, breaking all previous records.
Last month the far right Sweden Democrats – which doubled its support to 13 percent in September elections – came close to bringing down the Social Democrat-Green government in protest over the coalition’s liberal refugee policies. The party's support in opinion polls has risen to around 16 percent.
However in a last minute agreement on December 27th, the government and centre right opposition parties cut a deal effectively denying the Sweden Democrats influence over major policy – including over immigration.
Kharraki said the arson attacks could be carried out by "Sweden Democrats people who are angry because they've been pushed aside."
"They think Muslims are the problem," he said, while "mainstream political parties have taken a stand against racism and Islamophobia."
However, a spokesman for the Sweden Democrats said there was no reason to consider the attacks to be politically motivated.
"This is not political, it's criminal. It's criminals doing this and it's a police matter, not a political question," said Henrik Vinge.
"This type of violence is something we take very seriously…. It’s unacceptable of course."