Investigators Probe Stockholm Suicide Bomber

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The investigation into the weekend bomb blasts in Sweden has expanded to Great Britain. Police have been searching a house in southern England, hunting for information about the man suspected of carrying out the attack in Stockholm.


The investigation into a weekend bombing in Sweden has now expanded to Great Britain. Police have spent the night searching a house in southern England, hunting for information about the man suspected of carrying out the attack in Stockholm. Two explosions went off near a popular shopping area on one of the busiest weekend before Christmas. The bomber was killed and two other people were injured, but it could have been far worse. NPR's Philip Reeves is Stockholm and joins us on the line.

Greetings, Philip.

PHILIP REEVES: Good morning.

GONYEA: So why are the police carrying out this search in Britain?

REEVES: Well, the man thought's to have been a 29-year-old Swede of Iraqi origin who studied in England. A man called Taimour Abdulwahab. Reports, which aren't officially confirmed, say that the man studied sports therapy at the University of Bedfordshire in Luton and that he continued living in the town until recently, and still has a wife and two young daughters there.

GONYEA: And broadly speaking, what is the focus of this investigation?

REEVES: Well, Swedish security services initially seemed to think that these attacks were the work of one man, although they admitted they were never sure. But carrying out an attack like this involving explosives, a car, you know, propaganda and so on is a complicated business. And these so-called lone wolf operations are believed to be rare.

So the focus is on whether an Islamist organization, including possibly al-Qaida, played some sort of role in this. If so, did this man leave, in Luton, any evidence that might led police to arrest and find other members of the group who might be planning to strike again.

GONYEA: Again, you're in Stockholm, what impact are you noticing as far as the effect of these attacks on Sweden, on the people there?

REEVES: Well, if this is a suicide bombing, as it appears, then it's Sweden's first. Unlike Britain and Spain and others, you know, it's not been targeted by Islamist extremists. Although, emails, which are now being studied by the security services, which were received just before these bombs went off, cited the presence of 500 Swedish troops in Afghanistan and also an artist, a Swedish artist called Lars Vilks, who upset much of the Muslim world by drawing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad a couple of years ago.

So there are some here who say this was an event that was inevitable in the long run. Yet, Swedes tend to see their country, you know, as a prosperous, stable, tolerant, peaceful place - a place that produces diplomats that mediate the problems of other countries. And there's a feeling among the people I've spoken to, that this sort of thing shouldn't and doesn't happen here.

GONYEA: And is there any sense of how these attacks might affect attitudes within Sweden to that country's immigrant population?

REEVES: It is likely to increase tensions internally. These have been on the rise in Sweden for some time. Sweden has a pretty open immigration policy. It's taken a lot of people from Iraq, for example. Muslims comprise about five percent of the population, which is just over nine million.

And in the general election in Sweden this year, for the first time a right-wing anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, got into parliament. To the concern of many liberals, they won 20 seats. The risk is now, that tensions between Swedes who support those anti-immigration views and the Muslim minority will now rise, causing more social friction.

The Islamic association in Sweden here acted pretty quickly after these attacks to try to head off this, by issuing a statement condemning the attacks as a threat to peace within Sweden.

GONYEA: All right, Philip. Thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. He's in Stockholm.

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