- Pundits and politicians have described Sweden as ‘Most Generous Nation on Earth’
- Last terror attack came in 2010 when a failed suicide bomber blew himself up
- But there are tensions behind the country’s seemingly perfect facade
With its bustling pavements and elegant shops, Stockholm has come to be seen as one of Europe’s most peaceful and developed cities.
For decades, the Swedish way of politics – based on fair wealth redistribution, a welfare state with generous benefits, a large public sector and a liberal immigration policy – has been put forward as a role model for other countries.
Pundits and politicians have described Sweden as ‘the safest place on Earth’ and it has barely suffered from terrorist attacks.
Indeed, the last incident of note came in 2010 when a failed suicide bomber blew himself up in central Stockholm.
But yesterday’s killings come two months after US President Donald Trump was ridiculed around the world for making reference to a non-existent terror attack in the country.
His outspoken remarks, in which he also said Sweden was ‘having problems like they never thought possible’, drew a wave of international criticism.
But it prompted renewed debate over Sweden’s refugee policy, which has seen it described as ‘the most welcoming country in the world’.
Some politicians say the country has struggled to deal with the huge numbers of migrants who have travelled there to enjoy the high quality of life.
The surge at the peak of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015 saw a record 163,000 asylum applications in just one year.
The influx, to a country with a population of 10million, prompted officials to put in place additional checks at the country’s borders.
Since 2012 around 300 people have travelled from Sweden to join violent Islamist groups – making the country one of the largest contributors to terrorist cells in Europe.
They typically travel to Syria and Iraq but security services had felt they had stemmed the flow.
Yesterday’s attack will reawaken memories of Sweden’s first brush with Islamist extremism when another devastating incident was only narrowly avoided on the same street.
The botched 2010 plot was masterminded by a former British student who travelled to Drottninggatan as it was packed with Christmas shoppers.
Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, 28, who was partly radicalised while studying in Luton, had loaded his white Audi car with gas canisters, which could have killed dozens.
A remarkable stroke of luck, however, meant that the improvised weapons failed to detonate properly when the car went up in flames and only two people were injured.
The sole fatality was the perpetrator himself. He had fled the vehicle carrying pipe bombs, one of which exploded.