Uzbek man arrested in truck attack in Stockholm

Posted at 9:52 AM, Apr 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-08 09:52:16-04

STOCKHOLM — A man arrested on suspicion of terrorism offenses after the Stockholm truck attack is from the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan and was known to intelligence services, Swedish authorities said.

Suspicions about the arrested man have strengthened during the course of the investigation, Dan Eliasson, chief of the Swedish Police told a press briefing Saturday.

Police are investigating a “technical device” found in the vehicle used in the attack, he said.

“We confirm that we have found a device in the truck that doesn’t belong there. We are now investigating its content,” Eliasson said. “Whether this was a classic bomb or some sort of flammable device is now a matter for our analysis.”

Prosecutor Hans Ihrman said the arrested man was a 39-year-old from Uzbekistan.

The attack Friday in the heart of Sweden’s capital killed four people and injured about 15 more. Ten of the injured — nine adults and one child — are still being treated in three different hospitals in the city, the Stockholm County Council said Saturday. Four of the adults have serious injuries.

Earlier, Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT reported that a bag of undetonated explosives had been found inside the truck, which was stolen minutes before the attack as it made a delivery at a restaurant. The attacker apparently suffered burns caused by the explosives, which did not detonate properly, SVT said.

The man was detained north of Stockholm in the early hours of Friday (Thursday evening ET), police said.

The individual has featured in previous intelligence reports from last year, Anders Thornberg, chief of the Security Service told the briefing. However, the security services were not able to confirm that intelligence, so he was not on their radar, he said.

Their focus is now to prevent further attacks and investigate if there were other accomplices, Thornberg said. Security has been stepped up and border controls are in place.

Eliasson said investigators were scrutinizing the suspect’s social media accounts and contacts, but declined to be drawn on whether the man had connections to ISIS or other terror groups.

“We do not know whether there are further persons involved in this act or not,” he said. “But we are not excluding that. We are still working on a very comprehensive approach to see whether there is any possibility that further individuals are involved.”

Eliasson said he saw clear similarities to the attack in London last month, in which a man plowed through pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before fatally stabbing a policeman outside the UK Parliament.

The prosecutor has until noon Tuesday to ask the courts to detain the suspect, said Karin Rosander, spokeswoman for Sweden’s prosecutor’s office.

‘We are not afraid’

Drottninggatan (Queen Street) remained cordoned off Saturday morning, but the truck had been removed overnight from the building where it had been wedged. Heavily armed officers guarded the area and several police vans were present.

Scores of people came to lay flowers Saturday morning at a spot on Klarabergsgaten, near the crash site. The mood was subdued, with people seeming to be in quiet reflection.

Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria and her husband Prince Daniel visited the scene mid-morning. Princess Victoria, who was dressed in black and visibly moved to tears, was barely able to speak as she surveyed the area. “I feel an enormous sorrow and emptiness,” she told reporters.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who visited a short time later, said: “The goal is that we are supposed to be afraid, but Sweden has shown itself from its best side. That is a strength that no one can take away from us.”

Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin and Education Minister Gustaf Fridolin paid tribute to the victims of the attack as they left flowers at the scene.

“This is unfortunately something we are seeing in many countries in the world, but we have to stand up for our open society,” Lovin told reporters.

“I feel great pain for those family members who have received the worst message possible. This is my city, and it feels unreal that this has happened,” she said. “We must do everything in our power to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Police consoled one crying man nearby as he walked up with a bouquet. Several fathers brought their children down to the barrier and explained gently what happened.

Habib Jlassi, a 29-year-old night bus driver who was there with his three-year-old daughter, told CNN it was important to pay tribute to those who lost their lives.

“I’ve come here to show that we are not afraid,” said Jlassi, who lives in Stockholm and whose eyes appeared red from crying. “We are stronger than them.”

Around the corner, in a square outside Stockholm Concert Hall, a flower, fruit and vegetable market was being set up. Some people bought flowers there before walking over to leave them by the cordon.

Debris still littered the ground around the crash scene and workers in neon suits carried items to a waiting skip.

Some shops opened Saturday morning on streets around Drottninggatan as the city center began to return to normal.

Suspect photo released

Police launched a huge manhunt in the aftermath of the attack, releasing a picture of a “person of interest.” They later detained a man whose description matched the photo in Marsta, a town about 30 minutes’ drive north of Stockholm near the city’s main international airport.

Swedish police said they had not ruled out that the attacker could have had others helping him.

Parliament and the Stockholm subway were placed in lockdown in the aftermath of the attack. All train services in and out of Stockholm Central Station were halted and people were evacuated, the state railway company said.

King Carl XVI Gustaf cut short his state visit to Brazil to return home immediately following news of the attack.

‘He put his foot on the gas’

The attack happened just before 3 p.m. local time. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the beer truck speeding along Drottninggatan before it crashed into the front of a department store. The company that owned it said it had been hijacked as it made a delivery nearby.

According to eyewitness Veronica Durango, the driver “put his foot on the gas and ran through the crowd.”

“He came from Olof Palmes Street and drove down to Drottninggatan,” Durango told CNN in a phone interview.

“It was like he was driving through paper. It’s like it was nothing. I can’t even believe how a person could do such a thing. And then he just kept on going. I was in shock.”