Truck attack angers Swedes, raises questions about policies
STOCKHOLM: One brutal attack by a man who drove a stolen truck into shoppers in Stockholm has brought Sweden's open-door immigration policies under increased scrutiny — and raised the question if Swedish society, considered democratic and egalitarian, has failed to integrate its newcomers.
The suspect in Friday's attack, a 39-year-old native of Uzbekistan who has been arrested by police, had been on authorities' radar previously but they dismissed him as a "marginal character." It was unclear whether he was also a Swedish citizen or resident or even how long he'd been in the country.
The attack killed four people and wounded 15. In response, hundreds gathered Saturday at the site of the crash in the Swedish capital, building a heartbreaking wall of flowers on the aluminum fence put up to keep them away from the site's broken glass and twisted metal. Some hugged police officers nearby.
"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 who went to the memorial.
Joachim Kemiri, who was born in Sweden to a Tunisian father and a Swedish mother, says migrants and refugees had been arriving in too large numbers.
"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 — Prime Minister Stefan Lofven conceded it could no longer cope with the influx.
At a press conference in late 2015, deputy prime minister of the small Greens Party — a junior government partner — Asa Romson, broke into tears as she announced measures to deter asylum-seekers in a reversal of Sweden's welcoming policy toward people fleeing war and persecution. She described it as "a terrible decision," admitting the proposals would make life even more precarious for refugees.
On Saturday, Lofven 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 strolled through the streets of the capital to chat with them.
No one has claimed responsibility for Friday's attack but Sweden's police chief said Saturday that authorities were confident they had detained the man who carried it out.
Uzbekistan and other former Soviet Central Asian republics have long been a fertile recruiting ground for Islamic militant groups, notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which formed in 1998. Originally allied with al-Qaeda, many of the group's fighters have switched to Islamic State group affiliation.
Russian officials say the suicide bomber who attacked the St. Petersburg subway on April 3 was a native of Kyrgyzstan.
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.