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Sweden moves to tighten terror law after strike

April 12, 2017

The Stockholm government wants to fast-track a ban on joining terror groups, after a failed asylum seeker killed four people last week. The man was reportedly wanted for "religious extremism" in his native Uzbekistan.

Schweden Usbeke gesteht Anschlag vor Haftrichter in Stockholm
Image: Reuters/A. Ringstrom

Sweden needed to "close the gaps" in its terrorism laws, Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told reporters on Wednesday, five days after the assailant drove a truck into pedestrians moving along a busy Stockholm street.

The Scandinavian country has already banned fundraising and fighting for terror groups. The ban on joining extremist organizations remains a controversial issue, as many believe it would clash with the Swedish constitution, which guarantees freedom of association. Last week's terror attack, however, boosted the voices calling for tighter laws, more security and faster deportations of rejected asylum seekers.

"Freedom of association was never intended to mean that you could be active in terrorist organizations," Johansson told a news conference, adding that the matter would be "fast-tracked."

The cabinet has appointed a high court judge to look into the issue, with the new law expected by fall of 2018.

Wanted in Uzbekistan

Authorities identified the Stockholm attacker as a 39-year-old Uzbekistan national Rakhmat Akilov, who is said to have had "sympathies" for the "Islamist State" terror militia. However, no terror group has claimed responsibility for the Friday attack.

Akilov, who is an ethnic Tajik, applied for permanent residency in 2014 and was rejected in 2016. He was arrested just hours after the attack.

According to unnamed security sources from Uzbekistan, Akilov "fell under the influence of emissaries of the Tajik cell of the 'Islamic State,' making attempts to take part in combat in Syria on the side of the fighters."

Akilov tried to enter Syrian territory from Turkey in 2015, a security official told the Russian Interfax agency. He was detained and deported back to Sweden "given his refugee status," he added.

In February 2017, the Uzbekistan authorities put Akilov on an international wanted list for offenses "linked with religious extremism."

However, Swedish authorities said that he was not seen as a militant threat before the attack.

The country remains on high alert and police plan to increase their presence during the Easter holiday weekend.

dj/kms (Reuters, dpa, Interfax)