Terror threat level hiked over Koran burnings

In response to a surge of Koran burnings that have ignited global outrage, Sweden has taken a significant step by elevating its terrorist threat level to the second-highest notch.

Säkerhetspolischef Charlotte von Essen.

Säkerhetspolischef Charlotte von Essen.

Foto: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Säkerhet2023-08-17 15:23

The move, announced by the Swedish security service (Säpo), shifts the threat level from three, indicating a "heightened threat," to four, categorizing it as a "high threat" on the five-point scale.

This marks a pivotal moment for Sweden, as the country transitions from being a "legitimate" target for potential acts of terror to being identified as a "prioritized" focus for such activities. The decision to adjust the threat level comes in the wake of a mounting series of Koran burnings, which have catalyzed not only international concern but have also amplified apprehensions within Sweden itself.

This is the first instance since 2016 that Sweden has taken the step to raise its threat level to four. Charlotte von Essen, director general of Säpo, said that this adjustment reflects an evolution in Sweden's risk profile. The nation has shifted from merely being a potential target to becoming a priority target in the eyes of those contemplating acts of terror.

However, von Essen was careful to warn against panic. 

–The increased level does not mean that we should change our way of life, she said.

Importantly, the change in the terror threat assessment is not linked to any isolated incident. Rather, it is a response to a broader shift in the risk landscape that has gradually unfolded. Von Essen explained that the peril is multifaceted and dynamic, influenced in part by disinformation campaigns that depict Sweden as an Islamophobic country. This false narrative has inadvertently contributed to a heightened threat environment.

In addition, Ahn-Za Hagström, the head of the  National Centre for Terrorist Threat Assessment (Nationellt centrum för terrorhotbedömning - NCT), highlighted an alarming correlation between violations of Islamic scripture and the potential for inciting and inspiring acts of terror. The intersection of extremist ideologies with disinformation campaigns has intensified concerns, underscoring the necessity for proactive measures.

Von Essen emphasized that the move to raise the threat level is a deliberate long-term strategy aimed at addressing the evolving dynamics of the threat landscape. She stressed that the underlying challenges must be met with sustained vigilance, requiring both government agencies and other stakeholders to maintain a proactive stance.

The announcement has fueled discussions about security and the balance between freedom of expression and potential risks. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson cautioned that Sweden's open expression laws have been exploited by external forces to propagate "hateful messages," ushering in a crucial dialogue about how to address this tension.

Marco Nilsson, a political scientist at Jönköping University who has conducted research on jihadists in Scandinavia, has noticed increased levels of discussion within radical circles about taking action against Sweden.

– I've observed heightened activity within radical circles, he says.

Speaking to TT, he mentions that it was simpler for Säpo when threats were directed at a single individual, as seen in cases like the Muhammad caricatures.

– It's not just one person they need to protect, but now there are numerous targets, and that limits Säpo and the police in terms of capacity to respond.

The most significant threat comes from self-radicalized individuals who are not on Säpo's radar.

– As these ideas become more widely disseminated, those who aren't on Säpo's radar can get involved, making it easier to slip through the net, says Nilsson.

In the event of attack

Escape. The first thing to do is leave the scene, find safety, and note emergency exits.

Seek shelter. Locate a secure place, stay alert, silence your phone, and avoid unnecessary calls to those in the risk area.

Alert. Once you've left the scene and reached a safe place, immediately call 112 and report what has happened, where, and any information you can provide about the perpetrator.

Source: Police