Terrorism For Members

Why were Swedes targeted in the Brussels terror attack?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Why were Swedes targeted in the Brussels terror attack?
Belgian police patrol behind a cordoned-off area close to where a suspected Tunisian extremist was shot dead. Photo: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Abdesalem Lassoued, the suspected perpetrator of the Brussels terror attack, said in a video that he had 'killed three Swedes' as 'revenge in the name of Muslims'. Why would Swedish citizens be terror targets, and what precautions are they advised to take?


“I am from the Islamic State," Lassoued, 45, said in the video statement posted online immediately after the attack.

"We love those who love us and we hate those who hate us. We live for our religion and we die for our religion. Your brother took revenge in the name of Muslims. I have killed three Swedes so far." 

Why would the perpetrator target Swedes? 

It is still unknown why Lassoued chose Swedes as his target.

The Islamic State group (also known as IS, Isis or Daesh) on Tuesday claimed responsibility, saying the attack targeted Sweden for its membership in a global coalition battling jihadists.

"An Islamic State fighter carried out an attack against" Swedish nationals on Monday, Isis said in a statement issued on the jihadists' news arm Amaq, adding that, "the attack comes in the context of operations called for by the Islamic State to target nationals of coalition countries".

Sweden is among dozens of nations in the Global Coalition against Daesh, formed in 2014 after the militants seized huge swathes of Iraq and Syria.

However, it appears as though Lassoued acted as a lone wolf.

What we know is that at least four militant Islamic terror groups have in the past year called for revenge attacks against Sweden in response to the series of Quran-burning protests carried out by the Iraqi activist Salwan Momika and by the Danish activist Rasmus Paludan. 

As a result, Sweden's National Centre for Terrorist Threat Assessment in August raised the terror threat level to "High", or four on a scale of five. In a interview with The Local at the time, terror researcher Magnus Ranstorp called the threat against Sweden "unprecedented". 

Swedish media report that Lassoued earlier on Monday posted on social media about a Muslim boy who was stabbed to death by his family's landlord in Chicago, in which he wrote that it would have been called an act of terror if the child had been a Christian.

He also has a TikTok account where he among other things follows an account that shares conspiracy theories about Muslim children being kidnapped by Swedish social services.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a press conference on Tuesday that Lassoued had on occasion been to Sweden. Swedish officials revealed that he had served prison time between 2012 and 2014, after which he was made to leave Sweden under the Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive.


Which terror groups have threatened Sweden? 

  • Al-Adiyat, a media channel of Islamic state, in March published a poster in Arabic, English and French, addressed to "the Swedish effeminite Taghut" showing an Isis fighter brandishing a knife alongside Paludan. Taghut refers to anyone who worships something other than god. The poster accused Sweden of "declaring a war on Islam", and cited verses calling on Muslims, and particularly those in Sweden, to "tear their bodies apart on the street". 
  • As-Sahab Media Foundation, which functions as al-Qaida's media centre, published a call for Muslims to "take revenge" on Denmark and Sweden for Quran-burning protests in July, in an announcement titled "The obligation to attack the aggressive peoples". "People of Islam in Sweden, Denmark and all of Europe," the announcement read. "The duty of revenge is placed upon you". 
  • Al-Shabaab, the terror group based in Somalia, the Khorasan splinter group of Islamic State in Afghanistan, and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, have all also called for revenge attacks.  

What precautions are Swedes being advised to take abroad and in Sweden? 

Sweden has already tightened security at its embassies around the world as a result of the heightened threat, and the foreign ministry is now advising all Swedes abroad to take extra precautions. 

"The Quran burnings in Sweden have generated strong relations abroad and several things suggest that the threat to Swedish interests has increased," the ministry says in its travel guidance. "In the light of this development, Swedes and organisations abroad connected to Sweden should be especially watchful and careful."   

Sweden's foreign ministry at midnight on Monday sent out a text message to all Swedish numbers currently in Belgium, giving them advice on how to behave in the wake of the attack.


What have others been saying?

The US Embassy warned in February this year that when in Sweden its citizens should "use caution" when visiting public venues frequented by large numbers of people, diplomatic facilities, and other areas where people gather, such as places of worship. It also advised Americans in Sweden to avoid crowds, keep a low profile and report any suspicious activity to Swedish police.

The UK government warned in August that it was "very likely" that terrorists would seek to carry out terror attacks in Sweden, and that the "attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by foreigners." 


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