LONDON // The hunt gathered pace yesterday for accomplices of the suicide bomber who blew himself up in a Stockholm shopping district on Saturday.
Anti-terrorist police in Luton, the English town where Taimour Abdulwahab al Abdaly lived, were trying to identify a small group of Muslim extremists who might have radicalised the bomber.
In Sweden, a team of FBI explosives experts arrived to help local police in their forensic examination of al Abdaly's suicide vest and car amid a growing belief that he must have had help to make the bombs that he tried to detonate.
One area of investigation is believed to centre on whether a cough heard on the audio message he sent to police and a Swedish news agency shortly before his attack was from an accomplice.
Apart from killing himself the day before his 29th birthday, al Abdaly only succeeded in slightly wounding two others, primarily because only one of the six canisters on his vest detonated.
But Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, told the BBC yesterday that Stockholm had been "just minutes and a couple of hundreds of metres away from something catastrophic".
"It looks like he was heading into probably the most crowded place in Stockholm at the most crowded time of the year," he said.
"He was heading into a place where, if he had exploded all the ordnance he had with him, and that was quite substantial, it would have been mass casualties of a sort we haven't seen in Europe for quite some time.
"We were extremely lucky in that sense, that he evidently blew it and exploded himself."
Mr Bildt also confirmed that al Abdaly had not been operating alone and he said that "intensive" efforts were being made to find his associates.
"It might be that he was operating on that particular night alone, but it might be that preparations and training or whatever was part of a wider network," the minister said.
"That is obviously something that the authorities are extremely keen to try to find out."
Tomas Lindstrand, Sweden's chief public prosecutor, told reporters that this type of crime usually involved more than one individual.
"The attack appears to have been well planned, and we assume that the suicide bomber had accomplices," he said.
The Iraqi-born al Abdaly had moved to Luton from Sweden in 2001 to study at university. At least two weeks before the bombing, he left his beautician wife, Mona, and their three children - two girls, and a boy named Osama born during the summer - saying he was going to the Middle East on business.
While his exact movements are still being investigated, by last week he was in the Swedish provincial town of Tranas, where his father was celebrating his birthday.
On Saturday, he loaded his white Audi with gas canisters and travelled to Stockholm. The car failed to explode properly and al Abdaly was killed about 300 metres away when one of the explosives in his vest detonated.