Sweden killer claims truck rampage for IS ‘caliphate’
STOCKHOLM, (AFP): An Uzbek asylum seeker who mowed down shoppers in a truck claimed at his trial Tuesday that he killed them in the service of the Islamic State group — but his accusers insisted he acted alone.
Rakhmat Akilov, 40, is on trial on terrorism charges for the rampage on a busy shopping street in Stockholm, in which he killed five people and injured 10 more in April last year.
He has admitted carrying out the attack and claims to have had the blessing of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, but prosecutors do not believe that he had direct help.
The method of the attack resembled other vehicle assaults in Europe in 2016, including Nice in France and Berlin — but unlike those attacks, the Stockholm killings were never claimed by IS.
– ‘Acted alone’ –
IS proclaimed an Islamic “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq but has been largely crushed by US-backed coalition forces over recent months.
Akilov pledged allegiance to the group and told the court that he had been given the green light by IS members on encrypted chat sites.
He claims he was unable to identify them.
Investigations have failed to conclude whether he received any financial or material assistance.
Chief prosecutor Hans Ihrman said Akilov “sought support” from outside contacts but they did not have a “decisive” role in the attack.
“Akilov had planned and prepared the attack on his own” and “wasn’t dependent on other people,” Ihrman told reporters after the hearing.
Akilov told the court he wanted “Sweden to end its participation in the fight against the caliphate, to stop sending its soldiers to war zones.”
Sweden has around 70 military personnel based mainly in northern Iraq to provide training as part of the US-led coalition against IS.
– No remorse –
A courtroom sketch from February 13 shows the opening of Rakhmat Akilov’s trial, when he pleaded guilty to terrorism charges over the Stockholm truck attack
In the attack, Akilov stole a beer truck and crashed it into a store.
Three Swedes were killed including an 11-year-old girl, as well as a British man of 41 and a Belgian woman of 31. Ten other people were injured.
Akilov then set off an explosive device but it did not blow up as planned and caused damage only to the truck.
Akilov fled the scene, running into a nearby metro station, and was arrested several hours later after being identified from security cameras.
He told police he wanted “to die as a martyr in an explosion”.
Speaking calmly in Russian through an interpreter, Akilov expressed no remorse for his actions. Cooperative at the beginning of questioning, he gradually grew impatient.
“From his testimony so far, it’s quite obvious that we are dealing with a person who is quite convinced of the splendour of his deed,” a lawyer for 13 of the plaintiffs, Gustaf Linderholm, told AFP.
– Rejected asylum seeker –
After arriving in Sweden in 2014, at the start of a wave of migration to Europe, Akilov’s application for residency was rejected in June 2016.
He later went on the run to avoid expulsion and worked odd jobs in construction.
The father of four drank alcohol and used drugs, according to colleagues and acquaintances.
He lived alone in Sweden while his wife and children stayed behind in Uzbekistan.
Prosecutors have said they will seek a life sentence and afterwards his expulsion.
A life sentence in Sweden varies, but is on average 16 years.
The trial is scheduled to last through May, with a verdict due in June.
(The scene in Stockholm on April 7, 2017 after a truck mowed down pedestrians on a busy street and slammed into a department store, killing five people. Photo: AFP)
Published Date: Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 | 02:09 AM