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Truck drives into crowd in Stockholm, killing four people
Four people died and 15 were injured after a truck drove into pedestrians on Stockholm’s busiest shopping street and crashed into a department store, in what police were treating as an act of terrorism.
“Sweden has been attacked. Everything points to a terrorist act,” the Swedish prime minister, Stefan Löfven, said shortly after the tragedy on Friday afternoon.
Stockholm was swiftly locked down as armed police cleared the area and launched a manhunt for the suspected driver. Central streets and railway stations were evacuated and warnings were broadcast urging people to flee.
A man was arrested on Friday night after a police operation in Märsta, a suburb of Stockholm near Arlanda airport.
Early on Saturday, prosecutors ordered the man arrested on suspicion of “terrorist crime” through the act of murder. But it was not clear whether he was the driver of the truck.
According to the Swedish public broadcaster SVT, a second man, linked to the first, was arrested later in the northern suburb Hjulsta.
Swedish police had earlier issued a picture of a person they said was of interest in connection with the attack. Mats Löfving, the head of the national operations department, said the image, which appeared to be from CCTV footage, was taken close to the time of the incident in the vicinity of the attack.
“I have a picture of a person who has been seen at the location at this point in time. We want to get in contact with this person,” Löfving told a news conference.
Lars Byström, a police spokesman, said: “We want to talk to everybody who knows anything about this,” Byström said. He added that nine of the 15 injured people were seriously hurt.
Witnesses described their terror as the truck careered through the city centre. “I was terrified. I am still shaking. I saw a woman who had lost her legs – it could have been me,” one told Swedish news channel SVT. “The truck went at high speed. It crushed everything in its path.”
Another witness said: “He mowed down eight people and I saw four bodies a little further away. A woman with a small child became completely paralysed and just stood still. I grabbed her and another woman and threw us all into a stairwell.”
Smoke billowed from the spot where the beer delivery truck ploughed into the upmarket Åhlens department store in the Drottninggatan area. The vehicle had been hijacked shortly beforehand, when a masked man jumped into the empty cab and drove it away, the truck’s owner told reporters.
After public transport was shut down, Swedes launched the Twitter hashtag #openstockholm for anyone in the city willing to open their home to stranded commuters.
The terror risk remained high, police said, but the threat level for Stockholm was not raised after the attack.
Swedish political leaders expressed sympathy for relatives of the dead and injured, while urging people not to jump to conclusions about the attacker’s motives. “It is a horrible attack in Stockholm, lots of thoughts for the families of the victims, very important to avoid speculation and let police and others do their jobs,” tweeted Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of the centre-right opposition Moderate party.
“Let our thoughts go to the victims and their relatives,” said Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, now neck and neck with the Moderates as the largest opposition party on the right.
The attack, just hours after the US launched cruise missile strikes on military targets in Syria, appears to follow a deadly pattern that has emerged in Europe over the past year. “Steal a lorry or a car and then drive it into a crowd. That seems to be the latest terrorist method. Berlin. London. Now Stockholm,” tweeted Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister.
European politicians expressed solidarity, with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, saying it was an “attack on us all”.
A spokesman for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said: “Our thoughts go out to the people in Stockholm, to the injured, their relatives, rescuers and police … We stand together against terror.”
The French president, François Hollande, voiced his “horror and indignation” over the assault.
Two weeks ago, 52-year-old Briton Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, killing four. The attacker fatally stabbed a policeman before he was shot dead by police. A fifth person died after her life support was turned off on Thursday.
In December, 12 people died after a Tunisian man drove a truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin. Eighty-six people were killed and more than 400 injured after a 31-year-old Tunisian man ploughed a truck into a crowd of people on the promenade in Nice, France, last July.
Islamic State, the Islamist militant group that has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for those attacks.
The Stockholm killings come two months after the US president, Donald Trump, was widely ridiculed for referring to a non-existent terror attack in Sweden.
Trump’s remark prompted a fierce international debate over the consequences of Sweden’s 2015 open-door refugee policy, which led to 163,000 people claiming asylum after fleeing wars in the Middle East, north Africa and Afghanistan. Early in 2016, Sweden reversed its position and the flow of asylum seekers has drastically fallen.
However, in the country’s cities, which are highly segregated, Islamist ideas have found a hearing among small numbers of disaffected young people with immigrant backgrounds.
Since 2012, nearly 300 people have travelled from Sweden to join violent Islamist groups, according to Swedish security services, making the country second only to Belgium as the largest contributor of Islamist militants from Europe.
Some 50 people have died in the fighting and more than 150 have returned. Last year Marilyn Nevalainen, a white, Swedish 14-year-old who fell in love with a north African refugee, was rescued from Isis militants in Mosul after she followed the man to war.
Many of the young Swedish recruits come from vulnerable backgrounds and have low or no incomes, according to Magnus Ranstorp, an extremism expert at the Swedish Defence University in Stockholm. Some of the girls joining Isis are merely impressionable and following their boyfriends, while others are groomed online and want to rebel against patriarchal restrictions in their families.
The flow of Islamist fighters from Sweden has slowed and travel to Syria and Iraq has now virtually ceased, according to Anna Carlstedt, the country’s national coordinator against violent extremism.
But the government has faced criticism for failing to put in place structures for reintegrating radicalised returnees into Swedish society. Liberal politicians last week accused ministers of being “paralysed” in their attempts to deal with violent extremism.
If the Stockholm incident is a terror attack, it will be the first in Sweden since an Iraqi-born Swedish man exploded a bomb in the city during the Christmas period in 2010, killing himself but injuring no one. Nearby he had packed a car with explosives.
“An attack on any of our [EU] member states is an attack on us all,” Juncker said on Friday. “One of Europe’s most vibrant and colourful cities appears to have been struck by those wishing it – and our very way of life – harm.”