‘I’ve felt the responsibility of society on my shoulders for a year’

'I've felt the responsibility of society on my shoulders for a year'
Hans Ihrman. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT
A week after Rakhmat Akilov was handed a life sentence for the April 2017 terror attack in Stockholm, The Local sat down with Hans Ihrman, public prosecutor in the terror trial, to learn more about what he described as a "rollercoaster" of a year working on the case.

Akilov was last Thursday handed a life sentence after being found guilty for terrorist crimes as well as 119 counts of attempted murder. The Uzbek national killed five and injured ten more when he drove a stolen truck down a busy shopping street on April 7th, 2017.

Ihrman confirmed on Tuesday that he would not be appealing the ruling and told The Local he was “absolutely” satisfied with the court's decision, having now studied the entire 145-page document. The only point on which he and the court came to different conclusions was the question of one individual allegedly on the street at the time, with the court deciding there was not enough evidence to say they were a victim of attempted murder, and Ihrman says he accepts this conclusion.

READ MORE: Five key points from the Stockholm terror verdict

His work on the case has lasted more than a year, from the first call about a suspected incident in central Stockholm to the final verdict after one of the biggest trials in Swedish history. 

“As a prosecutor, there's of course always a level of responsibility as you're representing victims or the state,” Ihrman told The Local at the headquarters of the Swedish Prosecution Authority on Tuesday. “But this situation was all new. I've been around quite a long time and have never experienced the kind of responsibility I found in this case.”

Since laws against terrorism were first introduced in Sweden in the early 2000s, the country had not experienced a deadly attack on Swedish soil.

The Stockholm trial also had the potential to set a precedent overseas, due to the rarity of the circumstances. Similar attacks elsewhere in Europe have rarely resulted in trials, with the majority of perpetrators behind terror attacks either dying at the scene or shortly afterwards, as in the case of the Berlin truck attacker, fatally shot by police after fleeing to Milan. 

“My team and I were trusted by the whole society to conduct the investigation and the whole process, and I have very much felt this responsibility on my shoulders,” Ihrman said. “Of course you think about that the whole time.”

“Every day throughout the investigation I've had to make a decision, for a year, and if I make the wrong decision, the whole investigation could go the wrong way. You also have so many people around you who have worked really hard, so you don't want to disappoint them.” 

Father of 11-year-old girl killed in Stockholm terror attack to appeal compensation
Floral tributes close to the scene of the attack. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Asked if there were any particularly tough moments, Ihrman said: “It goes up and down, like a rollercoaster. During the court proceedings, on some days you feel it's going according to plan, but something can happen and things change very fast.”

This was also the case during the earlier phases of the investigation.

“We were trying to find evidence relating to all the people we could locate as being on the street,” Ihrman recalled. “Sometimes you'd be ready to take a person out of the investigation because there wasn't enough evidence, then you'd get something new that puts them back in the picture — that happened several times.”

Another example is the question of the home-made explosive device found in the truck's cab and which failed to detonate. “For a long time we were unsure if we could claim Akilov was responsible for this; was it even an explosive device at all?” Ihrman said. “But through very good police work, technicians made a reconstruction of the device. This showed that it was an explosive, so we could prosecute for that too. That's important, even if it didn't have the effect he was looking for, because it was a part of his plan.”

“Everything evil that Akilov planned for, I want him to face responsibility for it,” Ihrman said. And is he satisfied that that's now happened? “Yes, absolutely.”

One aspect of the ruling which has provoked debate is the amount of compensation awarded to victims, and particularly the relatives of the five people killed, each of whom received 60,000 kronor (compared to 150,000 kronor for each of the injured victims and 125,000 kronor for those found to be victims of attempted murder).

The father of the youngest victim, an 11-year-old girl, has said he will appeal after calling the amount “an insult”.

“I'm not surprised that they are asking the Court of Appeal for their opinion on this,” Ihrman said. “It's a very different crime compared to a homicide, and having victims of a terror attack in our country is a totally new situation, so I understand the uncertainty about the level of compensation. This can definitely be discussed, though that part of the case is not my responsibility.”

The prosecutor believes the ruling will set an important precedent in any future cases of terrorist crimes, and says the judgment “describes very well how severe the crime has to be for it to be a terrorist crime” rather than homicide or public destruction. The key distinction is a tangible impact on Swedish society as a whole.

Because of this, Ihrman said that one-off attacks at a mosque or synagogue, of which there were dozens last year, were therefore unlikely to be considered terrorism. “That has a direct effect on a certain community, certain victims, but the question is does it have an effect on a whole city or whole country? This judgment gives us the hint that there needs to be a wide effect on the whole society before we can call it a terrorist crime.” 

One way in which Ihrman's team measured the impact on Swedish society was by mapping the effect on different authorities, from measuring how long phone lines in Stockholm were affected, to assessing how hospitals reacted.

But proving in court that an attack has changed how secure Swedish citizens feel, or how much trust they place in society and institutions, is a more difficult task. 

“The purpose of terrorism today, in my opinion, is more about psychological effects on citizens rather than to create material destruction,” Ihrman explained. “That's very tough to describe in detail in a written law, and it's difficult to get evidence and prove how citizens feel, and the level of their trust in society — it creates a lot of difficulties in interpreting what is a terrorist crime.”

However, the prosecutor doesn't believe there's any scope for the definition of a terrorist crime to be tightened in Swedish law.

“Terrorist crime could occur in so many ways, so I think it is impossible to narrow the definition any more than it is. If it happens again, which I hope not, it probably will be a different set of circumstances.

“There will be a new situation we'll have to solve using evidence, things we can't foresee right now.”

READ ALSO: All The Local's coverage of the Stockholm attack

Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.