Swedish police confirmed on Sunday that it was investigating “terror crimes” after an apparent suicide bomb attack in central Stockholm on Saturday killed one person.
Eyewitnesses said the dead man appeared to have blown himself up close to a street packed with Christmas shoppers shortly after a car exploded nearby.
A threatening message was sent to Swedish media shortly beforehand warning of punishment for the presence of Swedish forces in Afghanistan and for the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad by a Swedish artist.
Two passers-by received minor injuries but neither explosion caused widespread damage – indicating the devices may have failed to detonate properly.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, described the incident via Twitter as an attempted “terrorist attack”, which failed “but could have been truly catastrophic”.
Roughly ten minutes before the explosions, a message was sent to Sweden’s main TT news agency condemning “your war against Islam and degrading the prophet”.
“Our actions will speak for themselves,” TT quoted a man as saying in an audio recording received with the email.
The apparent attack came two months after the Swedish security service raised its terrorist threat level to “elevated” for the first time, amid concern over extremist activity among elements of the country’s sizeable Muslim population.
There has also been heightened security in Germany and other European countries in recent weeks after warnings that Islamic terrorists could be planning an attack.
Emergency services received reports of the initial car explosion shortly before 5pm local time on Saturday at an intersection of Drottninggatan, one of Stockholm’s busiest shopping streets, in the heart of the Swedish capital.
Police later confirmed the explosion was caused by gas canisters inside the vehicle, which had been left in a roadside parking space. Amateur videos shot moments after the explosion showed the car engulfed by flames but there appeared to have been little damage caused to surrounding vehicles and shops.
A second explosion – apparently involving a suicide bomber — occurred minutes later a few hundred metres from the blazing car. A dead man was found lying in the street with wounds to his abdomen.
Swedish media reports said a bag filled with nails was found near his body, although police would not confirm this.
“It looked like the man was carrying something that exploded on his stomach,” an eyewitness told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. “He didn’t have any injuries to his face or his body and the stores nearby weren’t damaged.”
The body was still lying in the street six hours after the explosion as police and officials from Säpo, Sweden’s security service, inspected the scene.
There was no immediate indication of the dead man’s identity or whether was acting alone or as part of a group.
The warning email sent to the TT news agency shortly before the explosion cited Sweden’s “stupid support of that pig Vilks” in a reference to cartoons by Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist, in 2007 that portrayed the prophet Mohammed as a dog.
It also highlighted the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan, where Sweden has 500 troops, and told “mujahideen” fighters across Europe that it was “time to act”.
Sweden’s National Centre for Terrorist Threat Assessment warned in October of “a shift in activities among certain groups in Sweden, judged to be targeted at Sweden”, while Säpo said it had evidence that Swedish residents had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to attend terrorist training camps.
Much of the security forces’ focus has been on Sweden’s growing community of Somali immigrants.
The incident comes amid increased scrutiny of social tensions within Swedish society after decades of heavy immigration from Muslim countries. In September, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party secured its first seats in parliament after winning nearly 6 per cent of the vote.