Verdict due in Stockholm truck attack terrorism trial

Three Swedes, including an 11-year-old girl, a 41-year-old British man and a 31-year-old Belgian woman were killed when Rakhmat Akilov ploughed into them in a truck

Stockholm (AFP) – A Stockholm district court is to announce Thursday its verdict against a rejected asylum seeker from Uzbekistan accused of terrorism for barrelling a stolen beer truck down a pedestrian street in April 2017, killing five people.

Rakhmat Akilov, 40, who swore allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group on the eve of his attack, told the court during his trial that IS members had given him the green light on encrypted chat sites to carry out a suicide attack in the Swedish capital.

However, the jihadist organisation never claimed responsibility for the assault.

During his almost three-month trial, Akilov expressed no remorse. His gaze often remained empty, even when photographs and footage of the bloody carnage of his April 7, 2017 attack were projected onto a large screen in the courtroom.  

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

“It’s Allah who will decide if we acted rightly or wrongly,” Akilov told the court.

After swerving the truck wildly to hit as many people as possible, Akilov’s rampage ended when the truck smashed into the facade of a large department store.

An explosive device — made up of five gas canisters and nails — didn’t explode as planned and caused fire damage only to the truck. 

Akilov fled the scene, running into a nearby metro station, and was arrested several hours later from public transport video surveillance images and eyewitness reports. 

He confessed almost immediately to the crime, which occurred at a politically-sensitive time as Sweden grappled with the aftermath of having taken in more migrants per capita than any other country in Europe.

The Scandinavian country has registered 400,000 asylum applications since 2012 — or one for every 25 inhabitants, a record in Europe — with a peak of 162,000 applications in 2015.

– Motive: Avenge IS dead –

The verdict is due at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT) and the prosecution has called for Akilov to be found guilty of terrorism, seeking a life sentence to be followed by his expulsion.

Inmates serving life sentences in Sweden stay behind bars for an average of 16 years.

Investigators found text messages on Akilov’s cell phone with contacts identified only by pseudonyms, and whom Akilov said were high-ranking members of IS or the “Islamic caliphate” declared in parts of Iraq and Syria. 

Investigators have not been able to uncover the contacts’ true identities. Swedish intelligence agency Sapo meanwhile continues to investigate on its end.

While the text messages indicated Akilov consulted with his contacts on how to carry out his attack, prosecutors have insisted that he acted alone.

He told the court his motive was to pressure “Sweden to end its participation in the fight against the caliphate, to stop sending its soldiers to war zones.”

“I did this because my heart and my soul aches for those who have suffered from the bombings of the NATO coalition,” Akilov said. 

Sweden, a non-NATO member, has around 70 military personnel based mainly in northern Iraq to provide training as part of the US-led coalition against IS.

Prosecutors claim Akilov’s intention was also to “spread fear among the population”.

He told the court he had planned to die as a martyr and did not expect to survive the attack.

The assault mirrored other truck attacks in 2016 that left scores dead, one in Nice, southern France, the other in Berlin. Those were however claimed by IS.

After arriving in Sweden in 2014, on the cusp of a huge wave of migration to Europe, Akilov’s application for residency was rejected in June 2016.

He later went underground to avoid expulsion and worked odd jobs in construction.

The father of four, who drank alcohol and used drugs according to colleagues and acquaintances, lived alone in Sweden. His wife and children stayed behind in Uzbekistan. 

After the attack, Swedish authorities were heavily criticised for failing to locate Akilov and expel him. 

While the government has since adopted a series of measures aimed at ensuring that rejected asylum seekers really do leave Sweden, only 1,000 of 3,000 who were definitively rejected actually left the country in the first three months of 2018.

Security and immigration are two of the main themes dominating Sweden’s general election campaign ahead of a September 9 vote.