We were in Genoa when we first heard of Friday’s Stockholm killings. Reports from Kajsa’s friends and relatives talked of smoke coming from the store the truck crashed into, public transport closed down, people rushing around on foot, and the inevitable rumours of shots fired in other parts of the city, which were later discounted. So I suppose the event might count technically as a ‘terrorist’ one, as it did seem to frighten people, if only temporarily. It happened in perhaps the most public part of the city, where all of us could imagine our friends might have been. Hence the flurry of reassuring phone calls and texts.
Afterwards there were stories of bravery and charity from Stockholmers, a deluge of flowers marking the spot, ‘keep calm and carry on’ behaviour after only a few hours, peaceful demos against violence and in solidarity with peace-loving Muslims, and social democratic politicians (and the King, bless him) insisting that the atrocity would not be allowed to provoke any modification of Sweden’s culture of liberal openness and democracy: which of course is what the ‘terrorists’ want. ‘Is the terrorist threat any the less in more autocratic countries?’ asked the prime minister, rhetorically. The Right wing party, the Sweden Democrats, doesn’t of course go along with this. The incident simply serves as grist to its anti-immigration mill; as it will, doubtless, to Donald Trump’s. We’ll hear more of this.
Apparently the Uzhbeki driver of the stolen lorry had been denied residence in Sweden and ordered out of the country; but had gone into hiding, working in the ‘black’ economy, until he was sacked. This was his grievance. The implication of course is – pace the Sweden Democrats – that if he had been allowed to stay and work in Sweden he wouldn’t have troubled anyone. Police found some evidence of interest in jihadist causes on his computer, but no connection with them (and Isis have not, so far, claimed him as one of theirs); and an interest too in soft porn internet sites which doesn’t quite fit the image of an Islamicist zealot – unless he got them up to fuel his anger against the decadent West.
His State-appointed defence lawyer announced today that ‘he admits to a terrorist crime and accepts therefore that he will be detained’. But that of course was what he wanted all along. This must complicate the picture. He may have adopted the persona and behaviour of a ‘terrorist’ simply as a way of remaining in Sweden. Prison here must be more comfortable than sleeping in the streets, or in poverty in Uzbekistan. If so, it’s a pretty drastic means, to say the very least. His victims included an eleven year-old girl on her way home from school (smashed to pieces), and an elderly beggar from Romania who had survived the Nazi Holocaust (badly injured). Also, of course, an Englishman, a Belgian woman, and a dog.
To my mind this suggests, as in the case of the Westminster attacker, less an ideologue than a desperate psychopath, using ‘terrorism’ as a pretext for a more personal end. Which is why it shouldn’t really be included as part of the Europe- or world-wide Islamicist terrorist threat that really does exist, of course, but not in marginal copy-cat incidents like this. This is not to underestimate its horror and seriousness in other ways. But it’s an important political point to make; which I get the impression most Swedes – and in particular their government – have taken on board.
But of course we don’t know everything yet. It’s a good thing he wasn’t killed, like most of the others. It means we may learn.