Swedish officials say suicide bomber was Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly
STOCKHOLM - Swedish officials on Monday spelled out how close they believe Stockholm came to carnage on Saturday, and European intelligence services raced to discover whether the suicide bomber who blew himself up near a crowded shopping street was linked to a broader terrorism network.
Investigators believe the 29-year-old man of Middle Eastern origin could have been heading for a packed train station or department store when the explosive belt he was wearing detonated prematurely with only a fraction of its intended force.
"If it had all exploded at the same time, it could have caused very serious damage," said Tomas Lindstrand, Sweden's chief prosecutor. "It is not a very wild guess that he was headed to some place where there were as many people as possible."
Investigators believe the same man was responsible for the car bomb that exploded on a busy street corner shortly before the suicide blast in which the bomber was killed. Two passers-by suffered minor injuries, but Lindstrand said the damage would have been much greater had the devices - which included pipe and nail bombs - detonated properly.
Swedish officials said they were "98 percent" sure the suicide bomber was Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, who is believed to have been born in Iraq before gaining Swedish citizenship in 1992. He moved to Britain in 2001 to study physical therapy.
Lindstrand said the bomber was unlikely to have been acting on his own. Investigators probed his ties to Britain and the Middle East in search of accomplices.
British police searched a property in Luton, north of London, after it emerged that the bomber had until recently lived with his young family in the town and studied at the University of Bedfordshire.
Swedish authorities said that a threatening e-mail sent to Sweden's main news agency shortly before the attack came from the bomber's mobile phone. The message condemned the Swedish military presence in Afghanistan and the country's tolerance of cartoons by a Swedish artist portraying the prophet Muhammad. It also referred to a trip he claimed to have made to the Middle East "for jihad," fuelling speculation over a possible link to a Yemeni extremist group.
A Yemeni Islamist Web site, Shumukh al-Islam, published a photograph of Abdaly on Sunday, described him as a brother and hailed his "martyrdom operation in Stockholm."
Security services across Europe were on heightened alert before Saturday's attack amid warnings from the German government and others of possible terrorist attacks in the run-up to Christmas.
Sweden raised its terror alert level to "elevated" in October after its security service reported evidence of Swedish residents attending terrorist training camps in the Middle East. The country has a large Muslim population after heavy immigration from countries including Iraq and Somalia in recent decades.
Lindstrand said the bomber was "completely unknown" to Swedish intelligence officials before Saturday.