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Perspective: Terror Came To Stockholm

SWEDEN

On Friday, April 7, at 2:53 pm, terror came to Stockholm when a speeding truck plunged into the crowd on the main shopping street, killing four people and injuring nine.

Three days later, thousands of Swedes gave their response to terror, gathering in a silent vigil at Sergels torg, celebrating love, openness, and solidarity between people, symbolized during the attack by the hashtag #openstockholm.

For many Swedes, Friday the 7th was an ordinary day. People were shopping at Drottninggatan (marked by red pin on the map below), or walking past the big Åhléns department store in the city center.

Stockholm map

At 2:53pm, everything changed. Swedes will remember this day and the time - where they were and what they were doing. Terror had come to the city – a city that only once before experienced any kind of terror attack. In 2010, a young man managed only to kill himself in a botched suicide attack, which was also close to Drottninggatan. Since 2010, police have been preparing for another attack, but until last Friday, there had not been a single incident.

Shortly before the attack, the suspect now identified as Rakhman Akilov stole a truck that had been delivering beverages in the center of Stockholm. He took the truck and drove at high rate of speed along Drottninggatan, cutting down pedestrians as he went. Three people died there in the street, while the fourth person later died in a hospital. Nine persons were injured, and hundreds fled in panic. At the end of the street the truck crashed into the Åhléns storefront. The driver got out of the truck and disappeared in the crowd.

Police were alerted immediately. A few minutes later, the subway, buses, and trains were stopped. Police took control over the central city, and people were asked to leave by walking or even running, to clear the area of civilians.

For me personally and for my countrymen, the first hour following the attack was an hour of anxiety and worry. Where were our loved ones? Were they safe? I was on the way home on the subway – the very last train to leave before the system was closed – when my son called. He told me he was there at Drottninggatan, something that I did not fully understand the implications of until later in the evening.

It dawned on me later that had he stepped out onto Drottninggatan a few moments earlier, he would have been there when the truck ran people down. My son explained  he saw people lying in the street, badly injured. The police and the ambulances had just arrived.

Being a journalist, after checking on my family and friends, I started working. During the evening I talked to witnesses and listened to press conferences. I talked to a woman working in the church of St. Klara, situated only a few hundred meters from Åhléns. She told me she saw people running from center city, screaming as they fled towards Gamla stan (the island on the map below). She found two little girls, hiding in the stairs of the church, crying. Some minutes later police officers entered the church, asking everyone not only to leave, but to run.

Gamla

No one in the church was harmed, and the day after the events, churches like St. Klara opened their doors for people in need of comfort, prayers or a quiet place.

Thousands of Swedes traveled on foot to their homes that night. For the many who could not find a way to get home, the city of Stockholm opened places to spend the night. Hundreds of city dwellers opened their own homes or offered something to eat to the stranded commuters as well.

The hashtag #openstockholm was created as a means for people to help each other. There was a wave of solidarity between the citizens that moved the heart of us all.

Later in the evening, at 7:55pm, the alleged driver of the truck was arrested in a shop in the suburb of Stockholm, Märsta. In sharp contrast to the massive criticism towards the police after the killing of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 - a murder that remains unsolved – this time Swedes were impressed by the quick and competent work of the police.

The driver, Uzbek national Rakhman Akilov, seems to have had sympathies towards Daesh, but no terror organization had so far taken responsibility for the attack. Akilov had been denied a residence permit a month earlier and was supposed to leave the country, but had gone into hiding.

One other person has been arrested, however police say evidence on this other man is not as solid as evidence against Akilov, which police are describing as “strong.”

During the weekend, Swedes showed their sympathy and their sorrow by covering the entrance of Åhléns with flowers. Among the four who died was a little girl making her way home, a heartbreaking story that made many feel both sorrow and anger.

On Monday – the first working day after the attack – thousands of Swedes went to Sergels torg for a demonstration and a minute of silence at noon. Many Swedes stated their commitment to an open society using the hashtag #openstockholm. Others see the events as an opportunity to further restrict immigration. Some are afraid that the result of the attack will be hatred and racism.

Analyses will follow for months and maybe years. One thing is clear: we will not forget either the victims this day, nor the attack on an open, democratic society, and the blow against the trust and solidarity between people. However, Swedes seem determined not to let hatred win this battle.

Thousands of Swedes have been expressing their grief via the hashtag #prayforstockholm, and many read the prayer written by the Swedish Christian Ecumenical Organization, which accounts for the majority of Swedish Christianity (Sveriges kristna råd), after the attack: “God, we pray for a world that is bleeding. We pray for those who have been hit by sorrow today. We pray for our country and those leading our country.”

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Photo credit: Reuters Media Express. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven looks at flowers laid for the victims as he visits the crime scene, April 8, 2017, the day after the hijacked beer truck plowed into pedestrians on Drottninggatan and crashed into the Ahlens department store in central Stockholm. 

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