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What we know and don’t know about Sweden’s mystery drone sightings

The Swedish police and security police are investigating reports of drones spotted flying over nuclear power plants, the Royal Palace, parliament and other government buildings. But what do we actually know about these incidents so far?

What we know and don't know about Sweden's mystery drone sightings
A no-drone sign at the Drottningholm palace in Stockholm. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Police are investigating at least 20 drone observations in different areas of Sweden, which have now been classified as a “special incident“. A special incident can be launched to deal with a range of unexpected or sudden issues which the relevant police unit needs extra help and resources to deal with, or as in the case of the drones, to be able to better coordinate the investigations into these incidents.

Where have drones been spotted?

Some of the drones were reportedly sighted at the following locations and dates:

  • January 13th: Kiruna airport in northern Sweden
  • January 14th: Luleå airport in northern Sweden, nuclear power plants in Oskarshamn, Forsmark and Ringhals
  • January 15th, 17th and 18th: Stockholm
  • January 17th: A drone spotted again over Forsmark power plant. Police called to the scene also see it.

Witnesses speaking with Swedish media described at least some of the drones as larger than standard commercial drones.

One drone reportedly spotted circling Sweden’s parliament and government buildings and the royal palace in central Stockholm on January 15th, according to newspaper Aftonbladet, was a winged military-style drone. “This isn’t about some small propeller drone, but a large winged drone with at least a two-metre wingspan,” an unnamed source told the tabloid.

But much remains unclear, such as whether all of the sightings are connected, whether some of them are connected, whether any suspicious activity is behind them, and so on. Here’s a rundown of some of the things we know and don’t know so far.

Who is investigating these sightings?

Currently, sightings are being investigated by Swedish police, who have passed seven incidents on to the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) for further investigation.

Deputy Chief Prosecutor Hans Ihrman is leading preliminary investigations at Säpo, and confirmed to newswire TT that their probe is so far looking into only the sightings at nuclear power plants, although he did not confirm how many reports they were investigating.

“So far, it’s only power plants, but preliminary investigations are being carried out without bias. It is possible that the other sightings are reconsidered, and then that might change. We are reevaluating and analysing, and it could definitely be the case that other protected buildings or areas are included in this investigation, we’ll have to wait and see,” Ihrman told TT.

He did not provide any other comments on how the investigation is progressing, or if the sightings are connected.

Who is behind this? Is this something we should be worried about?

According to Per Engström, strategic commander of the “special incident”, it is difficult to say who could be behind the flights.

“It could be people who want to try out their drones, or provoke. Maybe there are people who want to collect a certain type of information. But this is still speculation. Then there are those who have legal reasons, such as monitoring power lines or forest owners who may have been in bordering areas,” he told TT.

The sightings have sparked headlines in Sweden partly because they come amid heightened tension with Russia. Investigators have, however, been reluctant to comment as to whether foreign powers could be behind the flights.

“It’s too early to say anything about that,” said Ihrman. “At the same time, I understand completely that there is a great deal of public interest in this case. But for the time being, I have nothing more to add,” he told TT newswire.

Karin Lutz, press secretary at Säpo, stated earlier this week that the Security Service “see no heightened threat against Sweden”.

According to Martin Hagström at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, the incidents raise “more questions than exclamation marks”.

“I’m no expert on nuclear power plants, so I don’t know if it’s possible to see anything specific, but according to reports, it was dark and windy. So the goal isn’t particularly clear,” he said.

“Seeing as they were observed in strong winds, they’re definitely not small drones. So it’s unlikely that someone who is out flying their drone in the evening for fun has flown off course, that is less plausible. You can speculate, but it’s difficult to draw any conclusions yet.”

TT asked if private individuals would have access to large drones which could be able to handle this kind of wind, to which Hagström responded: “Absolutely, it’s not technically difficult for a private individual to build one of these. However, it’s maybe not that common to have one. A larger photographic drone would also be able to fly in bad weather. But there is no clear information on how big these ones were.”

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