Sweden's image changed by Quran burning, warns counter-terror chief

Security threat likely to remain high as four explosions rock gangland-threatened cities overnight

Bomb squad experts were called in following overnight explosions that highlighted the threat of Sweden's underworld. AFP
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Sweden’s counter-terrorism chief warned on Thursday that the country will have to live with a changed image abroad after the repeated burning of the Quran in Stockholm.

The country was warned that security threats are likely to remain high for some time – after four explosions in one night underlined the parallel dangers of gangland violence.

The Swedish security service this month raised the terrorist threat level to high after Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said the country had become a “prioritised target” for extremists.

Sweden has faced condemnation and protests from abroad, especially from the Muslim world, after police granted permits for several protests where copies of the Quran were desecrated.

Some foreign actors want to “spread false messages” about Sweden and the image circulating abroad will keep doing the rounds, especially on social media, said Fredrik Hallstrom, the security service’s head of counter-terrorism.

“We probably will live with it for a time and we have to survive with that image,” he told a press conference.

Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said the security picture “continues to deteriorate” and that Sweden will “live with this higher threat for the foreseeable future”, according to local media.

Activists have burnt the Quran outside Sweden’s parliament, Stockholm’s main mosque and the Turkish and Iraqi embassies, testing the limits of free expression laws.

Denmark, where similar protests have taken place, announced plans last week to make burning religious texts a criminal offence. Sweden, though, is still considering its legal options.

Sweden’s stance that it merely grants permits for gatherings and does not approve of burning the Quran has not satisfied critics in the Muslim world who have called for tougher limits.

The terrorist threat adds to an epidemic of underworld violence in Swedish cities that Mr Kristersson’s government promised to tackle when it came to power last year.

Police reported four more explosions in the early hours of Thursday, including two in Gothenburg in the space of 10 minutes, one in Stockholm’s suburbs and one in Nykoping.

National bomb squad specialists were called in after the blasts at separate addresses in Gothenburg. There were no reports of injuries.

Sweden has struggled to rein in a surge of shootings and bombings in major cities as gangs settle scores fuelled by the drugs trade.

In 2022, Sweden saw 90 blasts and another 101 cases of attempted bombings or preparations for bombings, according to police data. As of August 15, 109 detonations had been recorded this year.

Updated: August 31, 2023, 7:59 PM