Sweden holds minute of silence for truck attack victims

STOCKHOLD, Sweden (AFP) — Swedes observed a minute of silence across the country on Monday for the victims of last week’s truck attack by a Uzbek man whom police believe was a jihadist sympathizer.

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

Media reports said the suspect 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.”

The motive of Friday’s attack remains unknown, 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 the main suspect, identified as a 39-year-old Uzbek who went underground when he received a deportation order after his permanent residency application was rejected last year.

Swedish media have named him as Rakhmat Akilov, a construction worker and father of four.

The far-right Sweden Democratic 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.”

But he admitted the Swedish authorities were struggling to deport the estimated 12,000 people who have gone underground after being denied the right to stay.

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

On Sunday, the prime minister, who has beefed up border controls, also expressed “frustration”, saying: “If someone has been rejected, they have to leave the country.”

Arrested several hours after the attack, the suspect was to be formally remanded in custody by Tuesday at the latest.

The Uzbek national had expressed “sympathies for extremist organizations, including the Islamic State,” senior police official Jonas Hysing told reporters.

The suspect has confessed to the crime and said he was “pleased with what he had done”, the Aftonbladet and Expressen dailies reported.

“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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