STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two blasts that shook a busy shopping street in central Stockholm were an act of terrorism, officials said Sunday. If confirmed as a suicide bombing, it would be the first such attack in the Nordic country.
Police would not comment on a motive for the attack Saturday that killed the apparent bomber and wounded two other people. But a Swedish news agency said it received an e-mail threat just before the blast in which the writer claimed to have visited the Middle East “for jihad,” and referred to Sweden’s soldiers in Afghanistan and a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad that outraged the Muslim world.
The terror threat alert is not being raised from its current elevated level, although security police are investigating the attacks as “a crime of terror,” spokesman Anders Thornberg told reporters.
“When we go through the existing criteria and the series of events that occurred, it fits well within the description of a terror crime,” Thornberg said. He declined to elaborate and gave no information about the dead man.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt condemned the attack.
The attack “is unacceptable because Sweden is an open society and an open society which has stated a wish that people should be able to have different backgrounds, believe in different gods or not believe in any at all, and live side by side in our open society,” Reinfeldt said at a news conference.
He warned against speculation that “could lead to conclusions that create tension which paints pictures that are then difficult to change.”
Carl Bildt, the foreign minister, said it was “a most worrying attempt at a terrorist attack.” Bildt commented in a Twitter message that it “failed – but could have been truly catastrophic.”
Thornberg did not confirm local media reports that the man who died had explosives strapped to his body. He also would not say if the man was a suspected suicide bomber as widely reported by Swedish media, saying police have “a totally clear picture about that” but were not sharing the information.
He said there were no indications so far that other people were involved.
“If this is a suicide bomber, then it’s the first time in Sweden,” he told The Associated Press.
In the incident that rattled normally peaceful Stockholm, a car exploded near the shop-lined pedestrian-only Drottninggatan street and burst into flames, causing panic among Christmas shoppers. Shortly afterward, there was a second explosion higher up on the same street.
Freelance journalist Gabriel Gabiro heard the blast from a nearby store and said he saw a man lying on the ground with blood appearing to come from his abdomen.
He told the AP that an orange bag and other belongings were scattered around the man, but he could not see if there had been explosives on the body.
The car that exploded contained gas canisters, rescue workers said.
Ten minutes before the blasts, Swedish news agency TT received an e-mail saying “the time has come to take action.” According to the news agency, the e-mail referred to Sweden’s silence surrounding artist Lars Vilks’ 2007 drawing of Muhammad as a dog and to the country’s presence in Afghanistan, where it has about 500 soldiers in the NATO force.
“Now your children, daughters and sisters shall die like our brothers and sisters and children are dying,” the news agency quoted the e-mail as saying.
According to TT, the writer said he visited the Middle East “for jihad,” but that he could not tell his wife or child about it.
“I never went to the Middle East to work or to earn money, I went there for jihad,” the agency quoted the e-mail.
Police said they were aware of the e-mail, which had also been addressed to Sweden’s security police, but couldn’t immediately confirm a link to the explosions.
Two people were taken to the hospital with light injuries.
Sweden – which has so far been spared any large terrorist attacks – raised its terror threat alert level from low to elevated in October because of “a shift in activities” among Swedish-based groups that could be plotting attacks there.
The security police said then that the terrorism threat in Sweden remained low compared with that in other European countries.
Vilks’ drawing in a local Swedish newspaper infuriated Muslims. In May, vandals unsuccessfully tried to burn down his home in southern Sweden and interrupted a lecture he gave in Uppsala about Islam and homosexuality with violent protests.
Last month, police in neighboring Denmark said that country remained a “high-priority terrorist target” because of separate cartoons of Muhammad that sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2006.
In September, a Chechen man accidentally set off a letter bomb, believed to have been intended for the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that first published the 12 cartoons. In January, a Somali man, armed with a knife and an ax, broke into Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s home, though Westergaard was unhurt.
Police in Norway said that three terror suspects who were arrested in July in an alleged al-Qaida plot there were likely planning an attack against the Jyllands-Posten.