National Post

Sweden eyes migration stance after truck attack

Open-door policy faces fresh challenges

- Matti Huuhtanen Jan M. Olsen and

STOCKHOLM• Much like the flags on the Stockholm skyline — some still flying at half- mast, others at their peak — people here are divided over their country’s friendly immigratio­n policies two days after an asylum-seeker from Uzbekistan allegedly killed four people in the city’s deadliest extremist attack in years.

The Swedish capital was slowly, but resolutely, regaining its normal rhythm Sunday as details about t he 39- year- old suspect emerged. Police said he had been ordered to leave Sweden in December after his request for a residence permit was rejected six months earlier.

Instead, he al l egedly went undergroun­d, eluding attempts to track down and deport him until a hijacked beer t r uck r aced down a pedestrian s t reet and rammed into an upscale department store on Friday.

“We will not bow down to terrorism,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Saturday. “Sweden will be an open and safe country.”

The suspect, who has been detained on suspicion of terrorist offences, was known for having “been sympatheti­c to extremist organizati­ons,” Jonas Hysing of Sweden’s national police said.

A second person was arrested on the same potential charge Sunday, and four others were being held by police. None of them have been identified.

Sweden has l ong been known for i ts open- door policy toward migrants and refugees. But after the Scandinavi­an country of 10 million took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015 — the highest per-capita rate in Europe — the government has tried to be more selective about which newcomers it allows to stay.

Swedish police said Sunday they had received roughly 12,500 referrals from the Swedish Migration Board of people who, like the suspect in the truck attack, had overstayed their welcome.

The suspect eluded authoritie­s by giving police a wrong address after his residency request was rejected in June, 2016, said Hysing, the operative head of the attack investigat­ion.

“The efforts to l ocate ( these people) is both timeconsum­ing and resource- intensive,” he said.

National Co- ordinator Against Violent Extremism Anna Carlstedt, who used to lead the Red Cross in Sweden, said Friday’s attack and the background of the suspect posed “difficult questions.”

“Do we somehow need a more repressive policy?” Carlstedt said. “I think it is very important now not to rush into something, to see how we can safeguard this open society and still be able to protect ourselves.”

The range of mixed emotions — fear and fraternity, anger and openness — also surfaced at memorial services and rallies held in Stockholm on Sunday to honour the attack victims.

Lars Holm, a 73- year- old Stockholm resident, was visibly upset after attending a service at Stockholm Cathedral. “If people who are here seeking asylum and treat us like this, it is not good,” Holm said. “So now we have to have more security in our society, but still we don’t like to live in bunkers.”

Addressing tens of thousands of people rallying in bright sunshine on the d o wntown Sergelstor­g square, organizer Rickard Sjoberg noted that many in the crowd probably were from out of town. “But today, we’re all Stockholme­rs,” he said to huge applause.

The four victims killed included a British man, a Belgian woman and two Swedes, authoritie­s in those countries said. Their identities were not released by Swedish officials.

The British government named the Briton as Chris Bevington, an executive at Swedish music- streaming service Spotify.

In Brussels, the Belga news agency said the Belgian woman had been reported missing before she was identified by her identity papers and later by DNA testing.

As of Sunday, 10 of the 15 people wounded remained hospitaliz­ed, including one child.

Stockholm county spokesman Patrik Soderberg said four of the 10 were considered “seriously” injured and the remaining six, including t he child, were slightly injured.

One of t he wounded, an 83- year- old Romanian woman who was begging on the city’s pedestrian Drottningg­atan shopping street when the attack took place, said she was “surprised” that passersby helped her.

“I thought everyone would run past me and save themselves,” Papusa Ciuraru, whose foot was crushed by a boulder displaced by the speeding truck, told the Expressen daily.

The lion-shaped boulder son Drottningg­atan are meant as roadblocks and similar ones have been put up in several European capitals after a truck attack last year killed 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin.

Police and Sweden’s intelligen­ce have questioned some 500 people as part of the investigat­ion, a senior police officer said.

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