Stockholm attack suspect admits to 'terror crime'

Uzbek ISIL sympathiser Rakhmat Akilov was arrested only hours after the attack and appeared in a high-security courtroom.

Police officers stand guard on April 8, 2017 at the site where a stolen truck was driven through a crowd and crashed into the Ahlens department store in central Stockholm.  Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP
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STOCKHOLM // Stockholm lorry attacker Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek and ISIL sympathiser, on Tuesday admitted to committing a “terrorist crime” by mowing down pedestrians on a busy street, killing four people and injuring 15 others.

“Akilov confesses to a terrorist crime and accepts his custody detention,” his lawyer, Johan Eriksson, told a custody hearing in a Stockholm district court.

Arrested in a Stockholm suburb just hours after Friday’s attack, Akilov appeared in a special heavily-guarded high-security courtroom. Handcuffed and wearing a thick green hoodie over his head, he kept his head bowed down.

Akilov, a Russian speaker, had an interpreter at his side to help him follow the proceedings. He did not address the court directly.

After Mr Eriksson’s statement, the judge agreed to the prosecution’s request to have the rest of the hearing held behind closed doors due to the classified nature of the information in the investigation.

After about an hour, journalists were readmitted into the courtroom and the judge remanded Akilov in custody.

Court documents showed Akilov, who is facing a lengthy prison sentence, had requested that Mr Eriksson, his state-appointed lawyer, be replaced by a Sunni, saying “only a lawyer of this faith could assert his interests in the best way”. The court refused the request.

Akilov, a construction worker who was refused permanent residency in Sweden in June 2016, went underground last year after receiving a deportation order, police said.

Friday’s attack resembled previous rampages using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, which were all claimed by ISIL.

The extremist group has not claimed responsibility for the Stockholm attack, but according to Swedish media reports on Monday, Akilov told investigators he had received an “order” from ISIL to carry out the attack against “infidels”.

The Aftonbladet newspaper reported that he said he was "pleased with what he had done".

"I mowed down the infidels," Aftonbladet quoted him as saying, citing sources close to the investigation and describing him as a father of four whose family had stayed behind in Uzbekistan.

“The bombings in Syria have to end,” he was also quoted as saying.

The four people killed in Friday’s attack were two Swedes, one woman and an 11-year-old girl, along with a British man and a Belgian woman.

Eight people were still in hospital on Tuesday, including two in a critical condition.

Deputy chief prosecutor Hans Ihrman refused to comment on the suspect’s motive, while Mr Eriksson would only say that his client had told police why he committed the attack.

The lawyer said the court had ordered Akilov to undergo a psychiatric evaluation as a standard procedure, and that a confession alone would not lead to a conviction.

“A confession is not enough to be convicted of a crime, other evidence is needed to back this up,” Mr Ihrman said at the courthouse on Tuesday.

Police have previously said they are sure Akilov was the driver of the lorry, citing technical evidence and video camera surveillance images.

Prosecutors said on Tuesday that a second man arrested on Sunday would not be remanded in custody, but that he would still not be released due to a previous deportation order against him.

“We will continue to investigate if Akilov had other people around him” who may have been accomplices, Mr Ihrman said.

Police have said the investigation could “take up to a year to finish”.

Swedish politicians have meanwhile expressed anger over the authorities’ failure to deport the suspect, as police said around 12,000 people had absconded after being denied the right to stay.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven, who led a nationwide minute of silence for the victims on Monday, said he was “frustrated” by the problem, while far-right Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson called it a “huge scandal”.

Intelligence agency Sapo has said Mr Akilov appeared on their radar last year for undisclosed reasons, but national police commissioner Dan Eliasson said “there was nothing in the system that indicated [the suspect] would do something like what he did on Friday”.

Justice minister Morgan Johansson, meanwhile, has said he wants to beef up Sweden’s antiterror laws.

* Agence France-Presse