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Stockholm attacker may use trial to spread propaganda, experts warn

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Stockholm attacker may use trial to spread propaganda, experts warn
Rakhmat Akilov in court. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
16:39 CET+01:00
Rakhmat Akilov, who has has confessed to driving the truck in the April 2017 attack that killed five and injured many others in central Stockholm, will use his upcoming testimony to spread Isis propaganda, legal experts warned on Saturday.
Akilov, an Uzbek national, swore allegiance to Isis before he stole a truck and ran down pedestrians in the city's busy Drottninggatan street on April 7th, though the jihadist group never claimed responsibility.
 
Akilov's trial, described as one of the largest in Swedish history, got underway last week and the defendant is due to testify on Tuesday. The judge will face difficult considerations over what Akilov will be allowed to say in court when he describes the day of the attack and his motives. 
 
Several experts fear that, like Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, Akilov will use the trial to espouse his extremist beliefs. 
 
“This will be a very difficult thing for the court to balance. It is easy for the court to tell a prosecutor to adhere to the subject, but it is significantly harder to limit a suspect who must be heard by the court,” said legal expert Sven-Erik Alhem.
 
Mia Sandros, a lawyer who defended one of the two men sentenced to life in jail for terror offenses in Syria, said there is an "obvious risk" that Akilov will try to spread Isis propaganda during the trial. 
 
“Looking at the ideological statements he has made so far, it is likely that [propaganda] will be part of the process when he attempts to justify his actions. It will be up to the court to limit what he says because this needs to be about what happened on Drottninggatan,” she said. 
 
Hard to silence
 
Thed Adelswärd, the senior judge at Lund District Court, said that if Akilov were to enter the courtroom displaying the single raised index finger salute used by Isis, it would be a clear violation of court protocol in a way similar to Breivik's courtroom Nazi salute
 
But when it comes to Akilov's actual statements, Adelswärd said the court must be more permissive.
 
“The defendant of course has the right to speak about his motives. If Akilov did this because he believes that Sweden has acted badly and that, through his action, he wanted to do something about it, he is entitled to talk about that,” he said. 
 
Adelswärd said that if Akilov's politics were part of his motivation, the defendant must be allowed to discuss them. Where the court can draw the line is at any specific statements that can be deemed as offensive to the families of the victims. 
 
When the 39-year-old Akilov testifies, it will be from behind reinforced glass in an underground security room, with plaintiffs following the trial from an adjacent courtroom.
 
The defendant's testimony will be followed by a number of days of plaintiff hearings, witness hearings and the prosecutor's and defence's concluding statements in May. The verdict and sentence (on the same day in Sweden) are expected to come by late June.
 
Akilov, who arrived in Sweden in 2014 and went underground after his request to stay in the country was rejected, was arrested in Märsta north of Stockholm hours after his attack, and confessed.
 
He faces a number of charges of which the most high-profile are "terrorism and attempted terrorism". Legal experts say that whether or not the court finds him guilty of the particular charges relating to terrorism will come down if it is determined that his acts were intended to seriously harm Sweden as a country.
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