Stockholm Terror Suspect a Rejected Asylum-Seeker; Trump Was Earlier Berated For Raising Sweden’s Immigration Policies

Patrick Goodenough | April 9, 2017 | 8:24pm EDT
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People place flowers on a fence near the Ahlens department store in Stockholm on Saturday, April 8, 2017, a day after the attack. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

( – The man suspected of driving a truck into a crowd of people in Stockholm on Friday was a rejected asylum-seeker from Uzbekistan who four months ago was ordered to be deported, according to Swedish police.

Four people were killed when the unnamed 39-year-old man, now under arrest, allegedly drove a stolen beer truck into a busy department store in the capital.

Not only was the suspect wanted since February for failing to leave the country, but he was also reported by police on Sunday to have displayed sympathies to terrorist groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

Sweden joins a growing list of European countries targeted by Islamic terror less than two months after its government responded coolly when President Trump drew attention in a speech to the security risks associated with the asylum policies of countries like Sweden and Germany.

“They took in large numbers [of asylum-seekers],” Trump said of Sweden. “They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

The Swedish Embassy in Washington said at the time it looked forward to “informing the U.S. administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.”

During the height of the European Union refugee/migrant crisis in 2015, Sweden took in some 163,000 asylum-seekers. (Per capita, it was a substantially larger number than even Germany – representing about 1.65 percent of Sweden’s population compared to 1.0 percent for Germany.)

The policy was in keeping with Sweden’s reputation as Europe’s most refugee-friendly nation, but has also contributed to a shift of opinions among Swedes. A recent report by British and Swedish think tanks found that a country with a “strong tradition of liberalism,” had undergone a significant change  in attitudes regarding immigration in the last couple of years.

Two Swedes, a Briton and a Belgian were killed in Friday’s truck attack.

National police spokesman Jonas Hysing told reporters on Sunday that the arrested suspect had applied for permanent residence in 2014 but was rejected last June by the Migration Agency which determined he should be deported.

“In December 2016, he was informed by the Migration Agency that he had four weeks to leave the country,” Swedish Radio quoted him as saying. “In February 2017, the case was handed over to the police to carry out the order, since the person had gone underground.”

“We know he has shown sympathies to extreme groups, among them ISIS,” Hysing said, but declined to comment further on the issue.

The Stockholm attack was the latest in a series of incidents in which terrorists have used vehicles as a weapon – a tactic encouraged by terrorist groups in online propaganda.

One of three previous such attacks over the past eight months also involved a rejected refugee applicant.

Anis Amiri, a Tunisian whose asylum application in Germany had been turned down, drove a truck into crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19, killing 12 people.

Amiri then fled across Europe, crossing several unmonitored borders before being shot dead during a shootout with police near Milan, Italy.

The other two vehicle-ramming attacks, in London last month and in Nice, France last July, involved a British-born convert to Islam and a Tunisian man with residence in France respectively.

Five people were killed by Khalid Masood in London’s Westminster, while in Nice, 86 people were killed when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a 20-ton truck through hundreds of people enjoying Bastille Day fireworks.

As was the case elsewhere in Europe, the numbers of migrants arriving in Sweden dropped dramatically in 2016, in part because of a migration deal between the E.U. and Turkey.

Swedish authorities also tightened up procedures after the 2015 influx, setting up temporary border controls and placing restrictions on refugee family reunification admissions.

Addressing a conference of his Social Democrat party at the weekend, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said efforts to combat terrorism must continue across party lines.

“We must prevent, obstruct and defend against terrorism with all the resources at our disposal,” the national news agency TT quoted him as telling the gathering. “We will chase these killers with all the strength of our democracy.”

Lofven said he was “frustrated” about the suspected terrorist’s immigration background, saying the government needs to improve its ability to execute its rulings, and ensure confidence in the system.

TT reported that asylum policy generated considerable debate at the conference.

An estimated 20,000 people held a vigil Sunday near the scene of the deadly attack.

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