Sweden terror alert – concrete threat
Today, the city of Gothenburg seems so normal, and yet it’s not. People make their way through busy streets already decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments. Buses come and go. Shops and businesses are open as usual and the authorities advise people to go about their everyday life. And yet, the daily newspapers splash headlines of terror. An increased police presence is felt at Nordstan, Central Station, and on every street corner. News is quietly discussed among commuters on buses, trams, and in gatherings at local coffee shops.
For the first time in its history, Sweden finds itself living under a high terror alert. Last night’s press conference revealed that Säpo was hunting a suspected terrorist, according to head of security, Director General Anders Thornberg. The threat level was raised to “high” – a level four category out of a possible five. This means, according to Säpo, that the “probability that players have the intent and ability to carry out an attack is high”.
“Violent Islamism is still the biggest threat against Sweden,” Thornberg said, but added that the evidence gathered about a potential threat in Sweden was not related to the recent terror attacks in Paris last Friday evening. There is however, he said, “a risk the past week’s events could inspire individuals to carry out similar actions.”
This all happens as recent headlines in Gothenburg reveal that Sweden’s second city rates the highest in Daesh recruitment. According to Säpo, more than 280 Swedes have joined the Islamic State. 115 have returned to Sweden and 40 have died. Forty percent – approximately 120 men and women – have come from the Gothenburg area.
Mats Sandberg, head of Sweden’s National Centre for Terrorist Threat Assessment (NCT) told reporters, “ISIS views Sweden as a legitimate target of violent Islamism. We are not a prioritised target, but a legitimate one.”
This, however, does not ease the minds of the people in Gothenburg who now reflect upon the fact that IS terrorists might be walking among them.
“If people are worried, I understand that. But we are taking all necessary measures, and it’s important that we don’t give in to the fear the terrorists want us to feel,” said Interior Minister, Anders Ygeman, in the second press conference of the evening.
While the raised terror alert follows similar situations in other European countries in response to the Paris attacks, Sweden also finds itself dealing with the immediate issue of a creditable and concrete threat. Morning newspapers display a grainy photograph of a suspected IS militant who has crossed the border into Sweden from Germany.
Säpo, and police across the country, presently seek Mutar Muthanna Majid, who has been charged in absentia, has had training in Syria, and is reasonably suspected of preparing to commit a terrorist act in Europe. The Iraqi man, 25 years of age, has traveled from Iraq and Syria to Germany and on to Sweden, where it is believed that he has some kind of connection. The photograph displayed was taken at the border, reports Göteborgs Posten. Police will not confirm or deny that the leaked photograph is in fact the image of the hunted man.
“It is feared that Majid has perhaps a dozen allies in Sweden,” a police source told Aftonbladet.
Mutar Muthanna Majid is now also wanted in Norway.
Police have tightened security at event venues, public places, embassies, and transportation hubs and the national task force is on standby. But for the police, it means adding a terrorist threat to an already strained organisation. When border controls were introduced last week, the police union expressed concerns over working conditions. The rise in gang related local crime, the refugee situation, border control and now a level four threat level is stressing not only the organisation but individual officers who have a large work load and a great deal of increased overtime.
As an American unfortunately familiar with the terror alerts in 2001, I scout about the streets of Gothenburg and I can’t help but feel somewhat insecure. There just seems to be not enough. Not enough experience, not enough training, not enough of a full blown police presence, not enough of the measures that keep people safe in times of trouble. Would the authorities have the training required in the event of a terrorist attack? Would the people, whom to this point, have remained naive and in a state of denial, know best how to protect themselves? I really hope so.
Update: Press briefing with Prime Minister:
– As of 2:47 today, the government wants to introduce secret data reading, more surveillance and control of biometrics in passports, said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. The government wishes to eavesdrop on Skype, Viber and other similar communications technology. In addition, government wants to investigate the surveillance of particularly vulnerable locations such as media newsrooms, religious premises and asylum accommodations.
“The technology and the reality has outpaced the authorities so that they can not fulfil their functions”, said Löfven. Therefore the government wants to give them increased powers such as secret data reading.
– Border control has been extended to December 11 announced Löfven at today’s press briefing.
– TT reports that security will be increased at tonight’s Journalism Award gala in Stockholm.
Update: Mutar Muthanna Majid was arrested in Boliden Sweden Thursday evening without incident.
Writer/photographer Lisa Mikulski. Available for print or online publications and business in the Nordic region, Europe, and the U.S. Editorial, news, features.