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Sweden raises national terror threat level: 'Not a Stockholm phenomenon'

The Local Sweden
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Sweden raises national terror threat level: 'Not a Stockholm phenomenon'
From left, counter-terrorism deputy head Susanna Trehörning, Security Service head Charlotte von Essen and Ahn-Za Hagström, head of Sweden's National Centre for Terror Threat Assessment. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden is raising its terror threat level from three to four, security chiefs announced on Thursday.

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"I have today made the decision to raise the terror threat level from an elevated to a high threat. We're moving from three to four on a five-point scale," Charlotte von Essen, head of the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), told a press conference.

"The situation regarding threats of attacks on Sweden is deteriorating, and this threat will persist for a longer period of time," she said.

She stressed that the decision to raise the level was not linked to a specific incident, but should be seen as "a strategic and long-term assessment". She urged the general public to keep living their lives as normal, but pay attention to information from Swedish authorities.

EXPLAINED:

A spate of recent Quran burnings has made Sweden a growing target of violent Islamist extremism, said Ahn-Za Hagström, head of the National Centre for Terror Threat Assessment (NCT). The burnings follow a separate global disinformation campaign which grabbed headlines last year after it alleged that Sweden's social services routinely "kidnap" Muslim children to secularise them.

"Recent desecrations of religious texts have contributed to the image of Sweden as a country hostile to Muslims," she said.

"Sweden as a country is much more clearly highlighted in calls to action and propaganda," she added. "It could inspire and motivate actors, both lone individuals and global terror organisations to carry out violent acts that could constitute terrorism."

Hagström and Susanna Trehörning, the deputy head of Säpo's counter-terrorism unit, said that the threat applied to all of Sweden.

"We shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that this is a Stockholm phenomenon," said Trehörning.

Sweden's terror threat level had previously remained at three ("elevated threat") since 2010, with the exception of a period in 2015 when it was temporarily raised to four ("high"). Level five, the highest level, has never been used in Sweden.

The scale is set by the NCT, which consists of staff from the National Defence Radio Establishment, the Military Intelligence and Security Directorate and Säpo.

EXPLAINED:

The raising of the terror threat level doesn't come as a surprise, as Sweden's national security advisor, Henrik Landerholm, said in a statement earlier this week that "the security situation has deteriorated and Sweden has gone from being a legitimate to a priority target."

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Landerholm also suggested that controversy surrounding a spate of Quran burnings "indicate that the threat to Swedish interests abroad has increased. Representatives of terrorist groups have called for attacks against Sweden. States, but also other actors, have contributed to fueling such messages."

Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer also told SVT news on August 14th that Sweden's terror level was "within the boundaries of a 'three' and approaching a 'four'", but said at that time that security services did not believe that the threat should be raised.

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