Stockholm truck attacker sought to ‘avenge Daesh dead’

Tue, 2018-02-20 18:03

STOCKHOLM: A rejected Uzbek asylum seeker who has admitted to a deadly Stockholm truck attack testified Tuesday that he wanted to pressure Sweden’s government to end support for a coalition fighting Daesh and avenge its dead followers.
On the first day of his trial last week, Rakhmat Akilov, 40, pleaded guilty to stealing a beer truck on April 7, 2017, and mowing down pedestrians on a busy shopping street, swerving wildly to hit as many people as possible.
Three Swedes were killed including an 11-year-old girl, as well as a 41-year-old British man and a 31-year-old Belgian woman. Ten more were injured.
The assault mirrored other truck attacks in 2016 that left scores dead, one in Nice, southern France, the other in Berlin.
Unlike those attacks, however, the Stockholm murders were never claimed by Daesh.
On Tuesday, Akilov told the court he had nonetheless been given the green light by Daesh members he was in contact with on encrypted chat sites.
Their exchanges show he spent three months preparing the assault. In mid-March, several weeks before the attack, he sent his contacts photos of the intended target for approval.
He told the court Tuesday he wanted “Sweden to end its participation in the fight against the caliphate, to stop sending its soldiers to war zones.”
“I did this because my heart and my soul aches for those who have suffered from the bombings of the NATO coalition,” Akilov said.
Sweden, a non-NATO member, has around 70 military personnel based mainly in northern Iraq to provide training as part of the US-led coalition against Daesh.
Akilov, whose Swedish asylum application was turned down in 2016, swore allegiance to IS on the eve of his assault in one of Europe’s safest cities.
Prosecutor Hans Ihrman has said he expects the hearing to provide a better understanding of “the process of radicalization” of emerging attackers, who are “marginalized in a foreign country” and take on “symbolic targets.”
He added that Akilov’s case “fits into a broader framework” of terrorists. Akilov has been charged with “terrorism and attempted terrorism.”
After crashing the truck into the facade of a store, Akilov set off an explosive device — made up of five gas canisters and nails — although it didn’t explode as planned and caused damage only to the truck.
He told police he wanted “to die as a martyr in an explosion.”
Akilov fled the scene, running into a nearby metro station, and was arrested several hours later from public transport video surveillance images.
One of the key questions in the case, unprecedented in the Scandinavian country, is whether Akilov had any accomplices.
Swedish intelligence agency Sapo is still investigating the identities of his chat contacts, and Akilov himself testified that he only knows their online pseudonyms.
Before the attack, Akilov said he recorded a video of himself pledging allegiance to Daesh.
Investigators so far believe he carried out the assault alone.
Testifying that he initially wanted to attack NATO-member Denmark, Akilov said he was ordered by one of his contacts to target Sweden instead.
He also told the court he gathered information on previous terrorist acts just before his assault, including the April 3 Saint Petersburg metro bombing and the March 22 London car attack against pedestrians at Westminster Bridge.
Speaking calmly in Russian through an interpreter, Akilov expressed no remorse for his actions. Cooperative at the beginning of questioning, he gradually grew impatient.
“From his testimony so far, it’s quite obvious that we are dealing with a person who is quite convinced of the splendour of his deed,” a lawyer for 13 plaintiffs, Gustaf Linderholm, told AFP.
After arriving in Sweden in 2014, at the start of a huge wave of migration to Europe, Akilov’s application for residency was rejected in June 2016.
He later went underground to avoid expulsion and worked odd jobs in construction.
The father of four, who drank alcohol and used drugs, according to colleagues and acquaintances, lived alone in Sweden. His wife and children stayed behind in Uzbekistan.
Akilov claimed he went to Turkey in 2014 with the intention of entering its war-torn neighbor Syria.
Prosecutors have said they will seek a life sentence and, thereafter, his expulsion.
A life sentence in Sweden varies, but is on average 16 years.
The trial is scheduled to last through May, with a verdict due in June.

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