Ikea stores are famous for their faux domesticity. They are like giant dollhouses full of sleekly designed Swedish furniture, into which customers can wander and imagine their own homes similarly transformed.
On Monday evening, however, Ikea’s domestic idyll was shattered as two men entered a store in the central Swedish city of Vasteras and suddenly began attacking strangers with a knife.
Surrounded by minimalist cabinets and stainless steel appliances, the unnamed assailants set upon the unwitting shoppers, killing a woman and her son.
Ikea’s dollhouse had descended into a house of horror.
Calling the attack a “mad event,” Vasteras police investigator Per Agren said there didn’t seem to be anything connecting the killers to their victims other than their location, according to the Associated Press.
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Vasteras police spokeswoman Victoria Holmgren told The Washington Post that two men, ages 35 and 23, were arrested on murder charges.
Holmgren did not identify the men but said that they are Eritrean asylum-seekers who were living in a home for refugees in Vasteras.
The younger man was arrested at the shopping center where the stabbing took place, she said. The older man was initially thought to be a victim and taken to a local hospital. Thanks to witness statements, however, he was later identified as the second suspect and placed under arrest. He remains in the hospital in serious condition and has not yet been interviewed by authorities, Holmgren said.
The motive of the attack remained a mystery Tuesday morning.
“We are currently looking into the motive, but right now all we can say is that there is no obvious political or religious motive,” Holmgren told The Post. “Nothing points in that direction, but it is still early in the investigation.”
She added that Vasteras police have been deployed to refugee homes around the city to prevent any possible retaliatory attacks against asylum-seekers.
The incident does not appear to be an act of terrorism. Sweden’s security police, which investigates suspected terrorist attacks, told national news agency TT they were not taking up the case, the AP reported.
“We have no idea of a motive,” Martina Smedberg, a spokeswoman for the Ikea Group, told the AP. “There have been no known threats against Ikea.”
Whatever the motive, the brutal attack quickly transformed the big box store into a bloody maze.
Police received a call reporting the attack at around 1 p.m. Monday, an otherwise bright and sunny day in Vasteras, a city of about 110,000 people 62 miles west of the capital, Stockholm.
Officers responding to the scene encountered terrified customers running through the store screaming “stabbing spree, stabbing spree,” according to Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper.
When police arrived at Ikea’s kitchen department, they found a male customer dead and a woman, identified as his mother, seriously wounded. The woman later died at the hospital, police said.
A third man was seriously injured and sent to the hospital, only for police to later learn he was a second suspect.
Authorities realized the mistake after cordoning off the store and interviewing witnesses.
Store manager Mattias Johansson told Swedish newspaper VLT that the victims were “seemingly ordinary visitors” who were stabbed while browsing kitchen accessories.
“You’re talking to a guy who right now might have their worst day ever on the job but also as a human being,” Johansson told the news media outside his store, according to VLT.
“I can tell you that we have two people who have been confirmed dead on the spot and one seriously injured. I have many colleagues who are unwell, but it is also important to say that no employee is injured.
“We are now focused on taking care of customers and employees who may have been witnesses, but also other employees. Then we or the police come when we know something more. It is a terrible day, and my thoughts go to the families of those affected by what has happened.”
The double slaying wasn’t just a blow to the big box store, which is as known for its environment- and worker-friendly policies as it is for its Swedish meatballs.
It was also a blow to Sweden, a country that has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe but is also currently facing a spate of high-profile attacks.
The southern Swedish city of Malmo has seen a string of startling explosive attacks in recent months, for instance.
In more than a dozen attacks involving devices ranging from Balkan grenades to bombs placed in cars and parks, explosions have wounded two people so far this year in Malmo. No one has been killed, but no one has been arrested, either.
“The pattern of targets — from flats to offices and one building housing a Ramadan celebration — appears random,” Reuters reported. “The best guess, experts say, is a gang turf war that could easily see fatalities as tit-for-tat attacks spiral.”
In the most shocking attack, the industrial port city of Gothenburg was terrorized in March when two masked gunmen entered a bar and sprayed a crowd with bullets during a soccer game. Two men — one reportedly tied to a local gang — were killed in the shootout and at least 10 other people were injured.
“Sweden has been shocked by the barbarity and indiscriminate nature of the Gothenburg shootings,” the Guardian reported. “The tragedy has also shone a spotlight on a hidden aspect of Swedish society that reads like the subplot of a Stieg Larsson novel, in which poverty, racism and segregation are driving young men from immigrant backgrounds into gangs and gun crime,” the Guardian added.
Although the incidents are each different — and much about the Ikea stabbings, in particular, remains unclear — the combined effect has been to set the normally reserved Nordic country on edge.
Immigration, in particular, has become a touchy subject in Sweden, a country that has long prided itself on its tolerance. Germany, France and Sweden have combined to accept a majority of the asylum-seekers flooding into Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
This rise in asylum-seekers has spurred a backlash in Sweden. Last year, the far-right Sweden Democrats party became the third-largest in parliament after pushing for a crackdown on crime and immigration.
“It’s always people from other countries that do these things,” Jorgen Grubb, Sweden Democrats chairman in Malmo, told Reuters after the recent grenade attacks. “What Malmo needs is to put up a red stop sign.”
Statistics don’t show a significant rise in crime, however. Sweden, a country of almost 10 million, reported only 87 instances of lethal violence last year, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. That number is roughly the same as over the previous decade.
In Vasteras, police fear that Monday’s attack could unleash reprisals against immigrants.
Revenge attacks are possible but not likely, said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College.
“There is a rising climate of intolerance and even some acts of violence against E.U. migrants. We’ve seen that,” he told The Post in a phone interview. “And yes, some right-wing forces may try to exploit [today’s attack], but I think the Swedish public is sensible enough … to understand the circumstances.”
Sweden has suffered from high-profile attacks on immigrants in the recent past, he said. In 2010, Swedish-born Peter Mangs was arrested after a seven-year string of deadly assaults on immigrants in Malmo. Mangs even plotted to kill Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose parents immigrated from Bosnia, because he displayed “typically Balkan behavior.”
“When you have these types of brutal acts of violence, of course it creates tension in the community,” Ranstorp said of Monday’s Ikea attack. Although Sweden has largely escaped acts of terrorism, more than 300 citizens have left to fight in Iraq or Syria, and roughly 30 neo-Nazis have joined fighting in Ukraine, he said. This flow of fighters creates domestic security concerns for Sweden, too.
“Sweden is a society under tension,” Ranstorp said.
This post has been updated.