Threat raised to second-highest level as prime minister says country has thwarted planned attacks
Sweden has raised its terrorist threat level to the second-highest number possible, as the prime minister said the country had thwarted planned attacks.
The move comes amid heightened security fears following a string of Qur’an burnings that have caused outrage around the world.
Raising the threat level from three, meaning “heightened threat”, to four, “high threat”, on the five-point scale, the Swedish security service (Säpo) said that in recent months Sweden had shifted from a “legitimate” to a “prioritised” target for acts of terror.
It is the first time since 2016 that the country has changed its threat level to four.
Making the announcement on Thursday in Stockholm, Charlotte von Essen, the director general of Säpo, said that Sweden was becoming an “increased focus” for Islamic extremists.
She said the change in terror threat was a strategic and long-term move, not linked to one particular incident. However, she said disinformation campaigns painting Sweden as an Islamophobic country had contributed to the increased threat.
Later on Thursday, the prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, said Swedish agencies had already averted planned terror attacks.
Speaking alongside von Essen, the justice minister Gunnar Strömmer and police chief Anders Thornberg, Kristersson said Qur’an burnings in Sweden had contributed to the heightened terror threat. Another factor, he added, was the attempted murder of an employee of the Swedish consulate in İzmir, Turkey.
“Our authorities, not least Säpo and the police, work hard to guarantee safety in Sweden. We know that planned terrorist acts have been prevented,” he said.
He announced that he had convened the national security council and said the government would be updating parliament on the situation. “Protecting the safety and security of all citizens is the government’s most important task,” he added.
Swedish security services were “proactive and on their toes”, he said, monitoring social media and working closely with each other and international partners.
Asked if the Sweden Democrats, the far-right party his minority coalition depends on, had contributed to the international perception that Sweden was Islamophobic, he said that while the country’s laws of freedom still applied, some Swedes should “reconsider how you express yourself”.
He added: “There is no reason to intentionally offend someone else, because it actually risks threatening Sweden. Calm and realising the seriousness of the situation is my message.”
Addressing future planned Qur’an burnings, he said the government was looking at its public order laws, but also cautioned: “Everything that is legal isn’t [necessarily] appropriate.”
Von Essen said: “The threat posed to Sweden has changed gradually, and the attack threat posed by violent Islamist actors has increased in the past year. Sweden has gone from being considered a legitimate target for terrorist attacks to being considered a prioritised target. In our assessment, this threat will remain for a long time, and I have therefore decided to raise the terrorist threat level.”
She added: “Government agencies and other societal actors must continue to take measures to prevent and reduce the threat of terrorist attacks in Sweden, and it is important to create the conditions needed to maintain these efforts over time. By doing this, we make Sweden a safer place.”
She told Swedish people to live as normal but that it was important to stay informed.
It comes after the UK changed its travel recommendations on Sunday, with the Foreign Office warning visitors: “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Sweden. You should maintain a high level of vigilance in public spaces.”
Security issues have dominated public discussion in recent weeks after Kristersson warned that the country’s freedom of expression laws were being exploited by outsiders to spread “hateful messages”.
The string of Qur’an burning protests, which under Sweden’s exceptionally liberal freedom of expression laws are legal, have prompted a domestic debate about whether there should be limits to such laws among those who consider their actions hate crimes.
The government has ruled out changing expression of laws but has said it was considering changing public order laws to enable police to stop Qur’an burnings if they posed a national security threat.
At the end of July, Säpo said it was handling attack threats against “Sweden and Swedish interests on an ongoing basis” and that the desecration of holy scriptures could have a “threat-inducing effect”. While it said then that events had worsened the country’s security, the threat level remained at three.
Source: The Guardian