Stockholm terror attacker linked to extremist leader
A Swedish Radio News investigation has uncovered links on social media between the suspected Stockholm terror attacker and a jihadist leader wanted by Interpol for financing terror.
“This is definitely interesting, partly because it shows there might be a connection there; that has to be investigated. But it also demonstrates what an important role social media plays,” terrorism researcher Magnus Ranstorp at the Swedish Defence University tells Swedish Radio.
On April 7, Rakhmat Akilov hijacked a truck before driving it at speed along one of Stockholm's busiest shopping streets mowing down pedestrians.
Fifteen people were injured, and three killed in the attack. Two further people later died of their injuries in hospital.
Swedish Radio News has learnt that in the months leading up to the attack, Akilov was active on social media, where he came into contact with extremist content and networks, contact that led ultimately to an extremist jihadist leader.
One of these social media sites was the Russian language Odnoklassniki, where several Uzbek jihadist accounts spread Islamist propaganda in the months prior to the Stockholm attack. This material was collected by an anonymous account that added Rakhmat Akilov as a friend.
The material included sermons encouraging violent resistance, bloody images from bomb attacks, and links to an extremist Uzbek-language military training website.
The material, which Swedish Radio News has seen, can be traced to “Abu Saloh”, the leader of an Uzbek Islamist group fighting in Syria, with links to Al Qaida. Abu Saloh is wanted by Interpol on suspicion of terror acts and terror financing.
Akilov is not the only person in Sweden who can be connected to the jihadist network on Odnoklassniki. Among the participating accounts are ones belonging to people who say they are from Sweden, or live in Sweden today. At least one of them poses in a picture with an extremist group involved in armed conflict.
And the account on Odnoklassniki for Abu Saloh has under the “family” tab listed two brothers. One of them says he lives in Stockholm.
These links are significant because the question of whether Akilov, who has confessed to the attack, acted alone or had help is not yet determined, Ranstorp.
“I think that you start by seeing who's in Sweden, and then link the international elements of this,” he says.
Akilov, an Uzbek national, had his request for asylum rejected by Swedish authorities in June last year.