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Sweden's far-right seizes on terrorist attack

Anti-immigrant parties use Stockholm bombing for political gain.

Sweden terrorist attack
Demonstrators hold an Iraqi (right) and Swedish flag during a demonstration on the corner of Bryggaregatan and Drottninggatan street in central Stockholm, where a suicide bomber blew himself up, on Dec. 13, 2010. (Bertil Ericson/AFP/Getty Images)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — The botched terrorist bombing in central Stockholm last weekend is being seized upon by Sweden's extreme right as an example of the dangers that multiculturalism and open immigration can have on the country.

The attack, which caused little damage, leaving only the perpetrator dead and two others with minor injuries, is now serving as political fodder for right-wing groups already hostile toward immigration and foreign cultures. The right is pointing to the bomber as a clear example of why Sweden should stop accepting more immigrants and promoting a multicultural society.

The National Democrats, a small, far-right party with a handful of seats on local government councils, have planned a rally on Sunday in Stockholm against multiculturalism and terrorism. The party said it had warned of terrorists coming to Sweden in the past, only to have the warnings fall on deaf ears.

“The bombings in Stockholm were not a coincidence but part of a frightening development that will affect us all,” read a statement posted on the group’s website. “The biggest tragedy with this first terrorist attack in central Stockholm is that it’s an indication of what is about to happen to our once-safe Swedish nation.”

Though terrorist attacks are nothing new to Europe, Sweden has long prided itself on remaining free from such violence while fielding troops abroad and hosting a growing Muslim population at home.

Omar Mustafa, president of the Islamic League in Sweden, said he fears the Saturday evening attack could undo the years of progress made by Muslims living in Sweden.

“We will lose the most after this attack,” he said. “This will not help the level of Islamophobia.”

The far right has seized upon the suicide bomber’s Middle Eastern roots and calls for violent jihad. The man, identified as 28-year-old Iraqi-born Swede Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, directed his ire toward Sweden’s military presence in Afghanistan and Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew an image of the prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body in 2007.

In an emailed audio messages sent to Sweden’s national news agency and recorded in Arabic, English and Swedish, al-Abdaly also called upon the “hidden mujahedeen in Europe and, especially, in Sweden” to carry out more attacks.

“It’s now the time to strike even if you only have a knife to strike with,” he said, “and I do know that you have more than that.”

A larger and more-established political party entered the fray when William Petzall, a parliamentarian for the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party, wrote on his Twitter account, “I hate to say it but what did we tell you?”

Petzall’s comments were echoed by Alexandra Brunell, secretary to the Sweden Democrats’ party leader Jimmie Akesson, who wrote Saturday night on her Twitter account, “Is it now that we can say we told you so?” She later backtracked, however, apologizing for the remark and its tone.

Speaking with the Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, Akesson made it clear the Sweden Democrats would take up the issue in parliament. The party has long demanded halting the country’s flow of immigrants.

“Now we see an opening to get a debate and start taking this threat seriously,” Akesson told the newspaper.

The Sweden Democrats stunned the political establishment in September when the party garnered enough votes to enter parliament for the first time. Since the election, the group’s popularity has even slightly increased, according to a Dec. 8 opinion poll by the country's main statistics office, Statistics Sweden.

Observers said it is unsurprising that the Sweden Democrats would utilize the bombing for political gains. Given its past objection to the rise of Islam in Sweden, the party can now use the attack as a rallying point for its faithful and as a means to possibly recruit more into the fold.

“It’s a process of scapegoating. You have one person that represents a very radical interpretation of Islam. Then what the Sweden Democrats are trying to do is extrapolate that to all of Islam," said Cristian Norocel, a researcher at Stockholm University and Finland's University of Helsinki. "This plays on their line of reasoning.”

As for whether or not the Swedish electorate will listen to the far right's arguments, Norocel said that remains to be seen. Sweden has a moderate political tradition, and the country's mainstream political parties called for calm following the explosions while Sweden's Muslim associations condemned the bomber's actions and beliefs.

"This moment of pondering can be easily hijacked by Sweden Democrats," Norocel said, adding that the media must also be careful not to overhype the incident with excessive coverage.

Mustafa, of the Islam association, said Sweden needed to promote an open dialogue rather than the recriminations offered by far-right parties in order to prevent future attacks.

“I think Swedes will not fall into this trap,” he said.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/europe/101215/sweden-stockholm-terrorist-attack-extreme-right