Sweden holds minute of silence for truck attack victims

Stockholm (AFP) – Swedes observed a minute of silence across the country on Monday for the victims of last week’s truck attack in Stockholm by an Uzbek man police believe was a jihadist sympathiser.

A huge crowd gathered solemnly outside the Ahlens department store at the corner of the Drottninggatan pedestrian street, where a stolen beer truck mowed down shoppers before ploughing into the store’s facade, killing four people and injuring 15.

Swedish court documents obtained by AFP identified the suspect as Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek national.

Media reports said he had confessed, claiming he had been ordered by the Islamic State group to carry out the attack against “infidels”.

Under grey and rainy skies, the crowd observed a minute of silence at noon (1000 GMT), many visibly moved, with tears streaming down their cheeks as a sea of flowers and candles covered the ground.

“I just want to cry, many died here. For nothing,” said Fadi Mdalal, from Syria, who was among those at the scene.

The four dead were two Swedes, one of them an 11-year-old girl, a British man, and a Belgian woman.

Many people thanked and hugged police officers guarding the scene, some offering them flowers, for their widely-praised response to the attack.

At the same time, an official ceremony was held outside Stockholm’s City Hall, attended by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, King Carl XVI Gustaf and most of the royal family, and Stockholm mayor Karin Wanngard.

“We will never give in to violence. We will never let terror prevail,” Wanngard said. “Stockholm will remain an open and tolerant city.”

To the families of the victims, Lofven said: “You are not alone, we are thinking of you. All of Sweden stands with you.”

– Residency application rejected –

The motive for Friday’s attack remains unconfirmed, but the method resembled previous rampages using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, all of them claimed by IS.

Police are continuing their investigation into Akilov, who they say went underground when he received a deportation order after his permanent residency application was rejected last year.

Swedish media have described Akilov as a construction worker and father of four.

Prosecutor Hans Ihrman on Monday asked a Stockholm district court to remand him in custody. The court was to decide on Tuesday.

The far-right Sweden Democrats party blasted the authorities’ failure to deport the suspect.

“It’s a huge scandal if it’s true,” party leader Jimmie Akesson told the Aftonbladet daily. His party won almost 13 percent of votes in the 2014 legislative election.

“We need to detain people when there is a risk they will go underground, and there appear to be around 10,000 to 15,000 cases,” Akesson said.

However, Swedish police commissioner Dan Eliasson said “there was nothing in the system that indicated (the suspect) would do something like what he did on Friday”.

The country of 10 million people took in 244,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015, the highest per capita number in Europe.

Justice Minister Morgan Johansson meanwhile told AFP he wants to beef up Sweden’s anti-terror laws.

“We’ve criminalised foreign travel for terrorism purposes, we’ve extended (our laws) on terrorism financing. There is a possibility to extend them further.”

– ‘Mowed down the infidels’ –

Akilov, arrested several hours after the attack, had expressed “sympathies for extremist organisations, including the Islamic State,” senior police official Jonas Hysing told reporters.

Aftonbladet and Expressen dailies reported that he had confessed to the crime, saying he was “pleased with what he had done”.

“I mowed down the infidels,” he said, according to Aftonbladet, citing unidentified sources close to the investigation.

The suspect reportedly said he had received an “order” directly from IS to carry out the attack.

“The bombings in Syria have to end,” he allegedly said.

Police would not confirm whether he had confessed. But police commissioner Dan Eliasson said investigators were sure they had the truck driver, based on “discussions we’ve had with him”.

According to police, components were found in the stolen truck that could be used to make a “dangerous” object.

On Sunday, a second suspect was formally placed under arrest, Stockholm district court judge Helga Hullman told AFP, refusing to disclose any links between the two suspects.

“It can take up to a year to finish the investigation,” the head of national police operations, Mats Lofving, said Monday.

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