Sunday 30 April 2017

Crowds gather at truck attack site amid Sweden soul searching

A woman places a flower on a fence following Friday's terror attack in central Stockholm, Sweden (AP/Markus Schreiber)
A woman places a flower on a fence following Friday's terror attack in central Stockholm, Sweden (AP/Markus Schreiber)
Sweden's prime minister Stefan Lofven stands in front of a fence covered in flowers after a terror attack in central Stockholm (AP/Markus Schreiber)
A woman drops flowers onto a police car after a terror attack in central Stockholm, Sweden (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Hundreds of people have gathered at the site of a crash in which a man drove a truck into shoppers in the Swedish capital, killing four people, as the country comes to terms with the attack.

The suspect in the attack on Friday, a 39-year-old native of Uzbekistan who has been arrested, had been on authorities' radar but was dismissed as a "marginal character".

The crowds gathered in Stockholm built a wall of flowers on the fence put up to keep them away from broken glass and twisted metal. Some hugged police officers.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Crown Princess Victoria were among those to visit the site.

One attack by a man who drove a stolen truck into shoppers - also wounding 15 - has brought Sweden's open-door immigration policies under increased scrutiny.

It has also raised the question of whether Swedish society, considered democratic and egalitarian, has failed to integrate its newcomers.

"We have been too liberal to take in people who perhaps we thought would have good minds. But we are too good-hearted," said Stockholm resident Ulov Ekdahl, a 67-year-old commercial broker.

Joachim Kemiri, who was born in Sweden to a Tunisian father and Swedish mother, says too many migrants and refugees have been arriving.

"Too many of them have been coming in too fast," the 29-year-old railway worker said. "It's too much."

Sweden has long been known for its open-door policy toward migrants and refugees.

But after the Scandinavian country of 10 million took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015 - the highest per-capita rate in Europe - Mr Lofven conceded it could no longer cope.

He laid flowers at the truck crash site, declaring Monday a national day of mourning, with a minute of silence at noon. He urged citizens to "get through this" and walked the streets to meet them.

No one has claimed responsibility for Friday's attack but Sweden's police chief said authorities were confident they had detained the man responsible.

Sweden's police chief Dan Eliason said officers found something in the stolen beer truck that "could be a bomb" or an incendiary device, but said they were still investigating.

The populist, right-wing Sweden Democrats have tapped into a growing anti-immigrant sentiment. Mattias Karlsson, the party's parliamentary group leader, said on Saturday that he feels "anger and sorrow but not shock" over the attack.

"Unfortunately, there have been clear signs that it was just a question of time before the next attack would hit Sweden," he said. "It will have far-reaching implications for society and politics."

Steve Eklund, an office worker a few blocks from the incident, said Sweden's immigration policy had gone wrong.

"Sweden has made some mistakes, and something needs to be done to assimilate the immigrants better," he said. "But it takes two to tango - the immigrants living here need to reach out to ethnic Swedes too."

Not everyone agreed. Visiting the crash site, Crown Princess Victoria laid roses on the ground and wiped away a tear.

"We must show a huge force, we must go against this," she said. "Swedish society is built on huge confidence, a sense of community."

In February, US president Donald Trump shocked Swedes when he suggested it could be the next European country to suffer the kind of extremist attacks that have hit France, Belgium and Germany.

Friday's attack was the latest in which drivers have used vehicles as weapons.

In an attack last month claimed by Islamic State (IS), a man drove into a crowd in London, killing four people before stabbing a policeman to death. He was killed by police.

IS also claimed responsibility for a truck attack that killed 86 people in Nice, France, in July 2016, as well as another that killed 12 people at a Christmas market last year in Berlin.

Friday's truck attack on Stockholm's pedestrian shopping street of Drottninggatan was also near the site of a December 2010 bomb attack.

AP

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