Until Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly’s explosive belt went off prematurely in Stockholm last month, Sweden was the poster child for isolationism in the war on terror. While Abdulwahab’s bomb failed to achieve his desired result, it did obliterate the myth that nations can remain neutral to global terrorism.
Abdulwahab’s failed attack typifies the jihadis’ all-out war against “infidels.” He was a doctrinaire jihadist with ties to a local militant Islamist organization, and his attack didn’t spring up out of nowhere. There had already been warning signs that terrorists were mobilizing against the Scandinavian democracy. Militants had threatened Swedish artist Lars Vilks for his satirical cartoon portrayal of the prophet Mohammed, attacking his home and attempting to murder him with an axe. Others threatened Vilks.
The Iraq-born Abdulwahab was a member of the Facebook group “Islamic Caliphate State.” He lived in Luton in Bedfordshire, England, home to four of the terrorists who killed 52 and injured more than 2,000 in the 7/7 train bombings.
Swedish authorities claimed that Abdulwahab had been “completely unknown” to them before the blast, and that they were trying to ascertain when he was first “radicalized.” Swedish prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand said that the country’s security apparatus “was not a Stasi organization engaged in analyzing people’s Facebook pages.”
The irony is that Abdulwahab’s musings on Facebook are the only evidence of his radicalism prior to the attack.
Farasat Latif, the secretary of the Luton mosque to which Abdulwahab belonged, said, “Despite Abdulwahab’s extreme views nothing pointed to the fact that he was going to do something stupid.”
While not rock-solid evidence of a plot in the making, Abdulwahab’s “extreme views” were at least an indication that he was a potential danger to others. Contradicting his statement above, Latif added, “Soon Abdulwahab began making extremist statements focusing on suicide bombings.”
From Stockholm to Luton, confusion seems to be the order of the day. No one seems to be able to comprehend how Abdulwahab became radicalized, what his motives were, nor the extremist network in which he was radicalizing.
Abdulwahab arrived in Sweden as a child in 1992 and obtained a European passport. In 2001, he moved to Great Britain to study at the University of Bedfordshire in Luton, where a jihadi network was already growing. Between 2004 and 2007, his activities were unknown.
In late 2009, during a resurgence of jihadi actions in Europe, Abdulwahab appears to have joined the campaign on the Continent. In a recorded message he made before the attack and sent to the Swedish government and the TT news agency, he said, “I never went to the Middle East to work or to make money; I went for jihad.”
Last Sunday, the al Qaeda-affiliated Shumokh al-Islam website posted a message calling Abdulwahab a “brother” and quoted a prayer that says “God let me die as you are satisfied with me.”
European authorities have a lot of catching up to do. Whether or not they wish to admit it, they are at war. Even when jihadists act as “lone wolves,” they always have ties to some kind of radicalizing environment. The internet is always a vehicle for radicalization, but small cadres of global jihadists create the habitat that cultivates terrorists like Abdulwahab. Luton had been a known hotbed of radicalization since July 7, 2005.
The Swedes have now joined the community of nations besieged by Salafi terrorists. They may entertain notions of neutrality, but the jihadists who attack them don’t care.
Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.