Knife terror attack was to ‘hit back at the Swedish people’

Theodor Engström, who fatally stabbed a psychiatrist at this summer's Almedalen political festival, told a court on Wednesday that he had wanted "to hit back at the Swedish people".

Knife terror attack was to 'hit back at the Swedish people'
Court illustration from the trial of Theodor Engström. Illustration: Johan Hallnäs/TT

In a high and clear voice, the 33-year-old explained why he had fatally stabbed psychiatrist Ing-Marie Wieselgren, adding that he had also included Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and Hanna Stjärne, the CEO of Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT, among  “hundreds” of possible targets.

In the middle of the hearing, Engström began to feel so misunderstood and agitated that the court chairman ordered the court to take a break.”Absolutely unbelievable!” Engström exclaimed as officers handcuffed him.

Engström, who is standing trial on both murder and terror charges, has suffered mental health issues for many years, with a forensic psychiatric investigation showing that he was suffering from a serious mental disorder both during the attack and during the investigation.

This also became more apparent during the latter part of Wednesday’s court hearings, as the 33-year-old became more and more agitated by prosecutor Henrik Olin’s questions, with his responses becoming more incoherent as time went on.

“That’s when he froze up,” defence lawyer Staffan Fredriksson later told the press.

As Olin attempted to get answers for concrete questions, Engström wanted to explain his thought process and “his reality”. His agitation seemed to stem from the fact that he felt Olin’s questions were irrelevant and that he was not allowed to defend himself.

After the court chairman called a break, Engström was less interested in answering questions from both the prosecutor and his own defence lawyer.

Prior to this, Engström discussed how he had been in a bad state for a long time, feeling lonely, rejected and betrayed by society and healthcare.

“I have spent my life in what I call a ‘ghost cage’, in the family home,” he said, “with almost no contact with other human beings outside the family home.”

During preliminary investigations, Engström also used this terminology, calling himself a spökpojke (‘ghost boy’), who had “signalled” that something was up through a “ghost dance”. 

He described the attack, which resulted in the death of Ing-Marie Wieselgren, psychiatrist and national coordinator for psychiatric issues in Sweden’s Municipalities and Regions, as a “suicide bombing”.

He stated that his attack was not targeted at her specifically, rather towards her profession and her role in society.

Engström had been aware of Wieselgren for some time and saw her as a representative of failed psychiatric care. Despite this, his plans to attack her were only formed upon arrival in Visby, as he checked the programme for the Almedalen week.

“It fell into place. I wanted to hit back at the Swedish people as much as I could,” he said, explaining that he chose Almedalen due to the strong symbolic value the event holds in Swedish society.

This is one of the reasons why the prosecutor argues the acts should be seen as terror attacks, which is the case for attacks where Sweden could have been seriously harmed and where the perpetrator’s intention was to instil serious fear into the Swedish population.

Engström was also asked if he regrets the murder.

“No,” he answered quickly.

He had shown interest in Centre Party leader Annie Lööf for a number of years, but said this was not a fixation, and that he didn’t go to Visby with a specific plan to attack her.

“She was a possible target along with many others, hundreds of other targets,” he said.

His lawyer Staffan Fredriksson said that the defence believed the chance of him actually carrying out the plotted crime against Lööf was low. Fredriksson also likened the prosecution’s proof that Engström had searched for and saved images of Lööf over the years as “picking raisins out of a cake”, as it reflected only a few pieces of a fundamentally large collection of evidence.

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Swedish terror attacker sentenced to psychiatric care

A court has sentenced the far-right extremist Theodor Engström to psychiatric care for the knife attack he carried out at the Almedalen political festival this summer.

Swedish terror attacker sentenced to psychiatric care

The Gotland district court found the 33-year-old Engström guilty of murdering the psychiatrist Ing-Marie Wieselgren, but did not agree that the murder counted as a terror attack.

It did find him guilty, however, of “planning a terror attack”, for his preparations to murder the Centre Party’s leader, Annie Lööf. 

“The murdered woman had a significant role [in society], a murder is always serious, and this had consequences both for Almedalen Week and for society more broadly,” the judge Per Sundberg, said at a press conference. 

The judge Per Sundberg announces the sentence on Theodor Engström on December 6th. Photo: Karl Melander/TT

But he said that the court judged that Sweden’s terror legislation was too restrictively drafted for her murder to count as a terror offence. 

“Despite Ing-Marie Wieselgren’s well-attested position within psychiatry, the court considers that her position as national coordinator at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions is not such that her murder can in itself be considered to have damaged Sweden. The act cannot as a result be classified as a terrorist crime on those grounds.” 

The court ruled that Engström’s crimes deserved Sweden’s most severe sentence, a life sentence in prison, but found that due to his disturbed mental state he should instead receive “psychiatric care with a special test for release”. 

In its judgement, the court said that an examination by forensic psychiatrists had found both that there were “medical reasons” why Engström should be transferred into a closed psychiatric facility and that “his insight into the meaning of his actions and his ability to adjust his actions according to such insight were at the very least severely diminished”. 

It said that under Swedish law, a court could send someone to prison who was in need of psychiatric care only if there were “special reasons” to do so. 

“The court considers that it has not been shown that Theodor Engström’s need of psychiatric care is so limited that there is a special reason for a prison sentence,” it ruled. 

Lööf wrote on Instagram that the judgement was “a relief”. 

“For me personally, it was a relief when the judgement came,” she wrote. “Engström has also been judged guilty of ‘preparation for a terror attack through preparation for murder’. This means that the the court is taking the threat towards democracy and towards politicians as extremely serious.”

The fact that the court has decided that Engström’s care should have a “special test for release” means that he cannot be discharged from the closed psychiatric hospital or ward where he is treated without a court decision. 

The court must rule both that the mental disorder that led to the crime has abated to the extent that there is no risk of further crimes, and that he has no other mental disorders that might require compulsory psychiatric care. The care has to be reassessed every six months.