Sweden: Will a terrorist attack change the country?
Stockholm has joined the long list of European cities attacked by Islamist extremists, said Peter Hjorne in Göteborgs- Posten (Sweden). Four people were killed and 15 more injured last week when an Uzbek-born ISIS sympathizer plowed a stolen beer truck through crowds of shoppers on a pedestrian street before smashing into a department store. Bloody bodies were strewn along the road, in a scene familiar to us from other recent vehicle attacks—Nice, Berlin, London. Our solace now is in one another. Our emergency services responded confidently, and the suspect, failed asylum seeker Rakhmat Akilov, 39, was quickly arrested. Our leaders are making it clear that we will not be cowed, nor will we demonize our Muslim neighbors. “We are an open, democratic society, and we will remain so,” said Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. Crown Princess Victoria, when asked how the nation would move on, gave the best answer: “Together!”
It’s a lovely sentiment, said Matthias Wyssuwa in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), but soon Swedes will have to move past platitudes and deal with the unpleasant reality that their country harbors extremists. The country of 10 million took in more than 160,000 refugees in 2015, the highest per capita rate in Europe, and integrating them is proving difficult. In the Stockholm district of Rinkeby, for example, where “hardly any ethnic Swedes live,” there is violence, poverty, and high unemployment, not to mention the occasional riot. Places like this are perfect recruiting grounds for Islamist radicals, and at least 300 people have left the country to wage jihad in the Middle East. “Swedes know all this. It’s just hard for them to talk about it.” Their “self-image takes a hit” when they are forced to recognize the limits of their famous tolerance.
Our security services simply don’t have their act together, said Jonas Gummesson in Svenska Dagbladet. The Stockholm attacker was ordered to leave the country last December, a decision made by the immigration authorities. But even though the Swedish Security Service had once monitored Akilov as a possible extremist, nobody followed up to make sure he had left. Meanwhile, Akilov kept on posting paeans to ISIS on his Facebook page. Police say up to 12,000 other rejected asylum seekers have gone missing— how many of them are radicals? It’s hard to avoid “the idea that the terrorist could have been stopped” if only our agencies communicated with one another.
Much more needs to be done, said Aleksandra Boscanin in Göteborgs-Posten. It shouldn’t have been so easy for Akilov to drive a truck onto the nation’s busiest pedestrian street. Traffic barriers must be set up at all major plazas and more surveillance cameras installed. We must also reform our laws on freedom of association, and finally make it illegal “to be involved in a terrorist organization.” It’s not enough to repeat the mantra that we should “live our lives as usual”—we must also make it possible to actually do so. ■