Sunday, December 12, 2010
Stockholm Hit by Blasts After Threatening Message - NYTimes.com
STOCKHOLM — One man was killed and two other people were injured when two explosions hit the heart of Stockholm’s city-center shopping district on Saturday evening, the police in the Swedish capital said. The country’s foreign minister called the blasts a terrorist attack, and an e-mail to news organizations minutes before the blasts seemed to link them to anger over anti-Islamic cartoons and the war in Afghanistan.
The police said that a car parked near the busy shopping street of Drottninggatan exploded first, shortly before 5 p.m. Stockholm time, and that the wreckage of the vehicle included gas canisters. A second blast followed minutes later, and about 200 yards from the first. A man’s body, with blast injuries to his abdomen, was discovered after the second explosion.
Swedish newspapers portrayed the dead man as a suicide bomber, and the newspaper Aftonbladet said on its Web site that he had been carrying pipe bombs and a backpack full of nails. But the police declined to confirm this. “We are in the middle of a technical investigation, and we are working methodically to find out what happened,” said a police spokeswoman, Petra Sjolander, who refused to speculate about whether the blasts were a terrorist attack.
Still, comments from Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on his Twitter account did not attempt to hedge the issue. His post read: “Most worrying attempt at terrorist attack in crowded part of central Stockholm. Failed — but could have been truly catastrophic...”
An editor at the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra, Dan Skeppe, said the agency had received an e-mail minutes before the blasts; it was also addressed to Sweden’s security police, and included a sound recording addressed to “Sweden and the Swedish people.” Mr. Skeppe said the recording cited Swedish “silence” over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad drawn by the artist Lars Vilks, criticized Sweden’s 500-soldier military contingent in northern Afghanistan and threatened attacks on Swedes.
“Now, your children — daughters and sisters — will die like our brothers and sisters and children die,” it continued. “Our actions will speak for themselves. As long as you do not end your war against Islam and the insult against the prophet and your stupid support for that pig Vilks.”
The Stockholm blasts seemed certain to cause widespread shock in Sweden. The country has long prided itself on having created a stable and peaceful society at home, and on having avoided involvement in the upheavals that have ravaged much of the rest of Europe in modern times, including World War II.
It has previously escaped the types of bombings mounted elsewhere in Europe since the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The Swedish military’s current deployment in Afghanistan, adding signals intelligence specialists to a NATO-led combat mission under American command, is a rare departure from the country’s usual pattern of avoiding involvement in military alliances.
Another major change has been the impact of heavy immigration, especially Muslims. Their growing numbers, and the furor surrounding Mr. Vilks, have contributed to a rise in tensions that have led to increased support for a right-wing anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, which won 20 seats this summer in a general election. The party, blaming immigration for increased crime rates, has focused its ire on the Muslim population, which accounts for about 5 percent of Sweden’s 9.3 million people.
The recorded message sent to Swedish news organizations demanded that Muslims in Sweden “stop sucking up and degrading yourselves,” and broadened the appeal to “all mujahedeen,” or holy warriors, in Europe. “Now it’s time to attack,” it said. “Do not wait any longer. Come forth with whatever you have, even if it is a knife, and I know that you can bring more than knives. Fear no one. Do not be afraid of jail. Do not fear death.”
Mr. Skeppe said the address in the e-mail indicated it had also been sent to Sweden’s security police, but there was no indication what sort of an attack was planned, or when. “They didn’t mention that anything specific would happen at all,” he said.
Several Swedish news organizations described the e-mail as having been sent anonymously, but Mr. Skeppe declined to confirm that, or to say whether the e-mail named the individual or organization who sent it. The e-mail’s reference to Mr. Vilks, a 64-year-old artist and free-speech activist, pointed to the deep anger in the Muslim world over Mr. Vilks’ drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in 2007.
Publication of the drawings in Swedish newspapers drew widespread condemnation in the Muslim world and death threats against Mr. Vilks, who has since lived under police protection. In March this year, Colleen R. LaRose, an American who has converted to Islam and used the pseudonym JihadJane, was charged with trying to recruit Islamic terrorists to kill Mr. Vilks.