Stockholm truck attacker pleads guilty as terrorism trial opens

Three Swedes were killed, including an 11-year-old girl, as well as a 41-year-old British man and a 31-year-old Belgian woman in the truck attack in Stockholm
AFP

Stockholm (AFP) – An Uzbek asylum seeker who confessed to wanting to mow down “infidels” in an April 2017 Stockholm truck attack that killed five people pleaded guilty to terrorism charges on Tuesday as his trial opened.

Rakhmat Akilov appeared handcuffed in Stockholm’s special high-security courtroom, wearing green prison clothes and with a shaved head and a beard, accompanied by his lawyer Johan Eriksson.

Akilov, whose Swedish asylum application had been rejected in 2016, had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group on the eve of his assault in one of Europe’s safest cities, though the jihadist group never claimed responsibility.

On the afternoon of Friday, April 7, Akilov stole a beer delivery truck and barrelled down a bustling pedestrian shopping street, swerving wildly to hit as many people as possible. 

Three Swedes were killed, including an 11-year-old girl, as well as a 41-year-old British man and a 31-year-old Belgian woman. Ten others were injured. 

Rakhmat “Akilov took the truck … and drove it the way the prosecutor described. He killed five people and physically injured 10,” his lawyer Johan Eriksson told the court, adding: “The lives of a large number of people were put in danger.”

“The motive was to instigate fear and to get Sweden to end its participation in the coalition against the Islamic State,” he added.

Akilov, who turns 40 on Wednesday, crashed the truck into the facade of a department store and detonated an explosive device — made up of five gas canisters and nails — though it didn’t explode as planned and caused damage only to the truck. 

He told investigators he had planned to die in the assault.

Akilov fled the scene by running into a nearby metro station, and was arrested several hours later thanks to public transport video surveillance images.

He confessed in police questioning.

– Contacts probed –

Investigators have recovered several smartphone exchanges he had with unidentified contacts on encrypted chat sites before, during and after the attack.

The prosecution on Tuesday presented a list of his conversations on WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook and Zello, found on his cell phone.

Of 209 messages, 16 are directly “interesting”, according to the prosecutor, in particular those on a Zello chat forum where Akilov spoke to contacts using the pseudonyms Muovia Regari, Abu Aisha, Muhammad, and Abu Fotima among others.

To several of these contacts, he said he wanted to “mow down the infidels.”

According to the charge sheet, Akilov also searched the internet for information on jihadist groups, swearing allegiance to IS, possible targets, and how to build a bomb.

While investigators continue to search for Akilov’s contacts, prosecutors believe he acted alone and have therefore charged only him.

Prosecutors have said they will seek a life sentence and, thereafter, his expulsion from the Scandinavian country. A life sentence in Sweden varies, but is on average 16 years.

Eriksson told the court on Tuesday that his client would not oppose either measure. 

Akilov arrived in Sweden in 2014, at the start of the big migration wave to Europe. His application for Swedish residency was rejected in 2016, after which he went underground and worked odd jobs in construction.

Akilov’s wife and four children had stayed behind in Uzbekistan.

Europe has seen a wave of truck attacks in recent years.

The deadliest was in Nice, on July 14, 2016, when a truck rammed crowds leaving a fireworks display for France’s national holiday, killing 86 people.

The Scandinavian country has experienced only one other terror attack in modern times. In December 2010, a man blew himself up in a suicide attack in central Stockholm that lightly injured two passersby.

Akilov is scheduled to address the court as of February 20. The case is to continue through May with a verdict due in June.

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