Swedish police no longer investigating terror motives in Vetlanda attack

UPDATED: Swedish police are set to hold a press conference on Thursday after a man stabbed and injured seven people in the town of Vetlanda.

police cordons in Vetlanda
Police on Wednesday evening, at the scene of the violent incident in Vetlanda. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

A police statement early on Thursday revised the number of injured in the attack to seven from eight, and police later said they were no longer investigating possible terror motives. 

The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack on Wednesday in the southern city of 13,000 inhabitants.

Speaking to AFP, police said the man had used a “sharp weapon”, while local media reported that he had brandished a knife.

Police initially treated the incident as “attempted murder” but later changed it in a statement to include a “suspected terrorist crime”, without giving further details. Now the man has been detained on suspicion of several accounts of attempted murder, but police are no longer investigating the incident as suspected terrorism.

Three of those attacked were said to have suffered life-threatening injuries, while two others were in serious condition. All five required intensive care treatment, according to information coming out of the hospital in Jönköping where they were being treated. 

The victims were aged between 20 and 70, according to local newspaper Jnytt.

The Swedish intelligence service Säpo will still be involved in the investigation, but have not taken over the case, as happens with suspected terrorism crimes.

The suspect was a 22-year-old resident of the area and previously known to police, but in the past had only been suspected of “petty crimes”. Police did not specify if he was a Swedish citizen.

“We are working intensively and will have lots of resources going forward. We would also really like to come into contact with anyone who has information on the incident. That is also one reason why we cannot come out with a lot of details at the moment,” local police chief Malena Grann told The Local on Wednesday evening about the next step in the investigation.

As of Thursday morning, police said they had been able to carry out an initial questioning with the man overnight, after he received treatment for his injuries at hospital.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven condemned the “horrific violence” in a statement published on his Facebook page.

“We face these despicable actions with the combined force of the community,” Löfven said.

“We are reminded of how frail our safe existence is,” Löfven added, encouraging people to have the victims in their thoughts, as well as health workers and police tending to wounded and working to restore peace.

According to the police report, the first emergency calls about the attack came in shortly before 3pm on Wednesday, with the first patrol arriving on the scene at 3.10pm. Police said that the suspect was located three minutes after the first patrol arrived, and that the armed man was shot and arrested.

Police have scheduled a press conference for 3pm on Thursday.

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Calls for special police tactics to be available across Sweden

The chairwoman of the Police Association West Region has said that police special tactics, known as Särskild polistaktik or SPT, should be available across Sweden, to use in demonstrations similar to those during the Easter weekend.

Calls for special police tactics to be available across Sweden

SPT, (Särskild polistaktik), is a tactic where the police work with communication rather than physical measures to reduce the risk of conflicts during events like demonstrations.

Tactics include knowledge about how social movements function and how crowds act, as well as understanding how individuals and groups act in a given situation. Police may attempt to engage in collaboration and trust building, which they are specially trained to do.

Katharina von Sydow, chairwoman of the Police Association West Region, told Swedish Radio P4 West that the concept should exist throughout the country.

“We have nothing to defend ourselves within 10 to 15 metres. We need tools to stop this type of violent riot without doing too much damage,” she said.

SPT is used in the West region, the South region and in Stockholm, which doesn’t cover all the places where the Easter weekend riots took place.

In the wake of the riots, police unions and the police’s chief safety representative had a meeting with the National Police Chief, Anders Tornberg, and demanded an evaluation of the police’s work. Katharina von Sydow now hopes that the tactics will be introduced everywhere.

“This concept must exist throughout the country”, she said.

During the Easter weekend around 200 people were involved in riots after a planned demonstration by anti-Muslim Danish politician Rasmus Paludan and his party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), that included the burning of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

Paludan’s application for another demonstration this weekend was rejected by police.

In Norway on Saturday, police used tear gas against several people during a Koran-burning demonstration after hundreds of counter-demonstrators clashed with police in the town of Sandefjord.