Swedes hold minute of silence for truck attack victims

Pia OHLIN
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A woman reacts during a minute of silence to commemorate the victims of Friday's terror attack at a makeshift memorial near the site where a truck drove into Ahlens department store in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 10, 2017

Sweden held a nationwide minute of silence Monday for the victims of last week's Stockholm truck attack which police believe was carried out by an Uzbek jihadist sympathiser.

A huge crowd gathered outside the Ahlens department store at the corner of the Drottninggatan pedestrian street, where a driver mowed down shoppers with a stolen beer truck Friday before ploughing into the store's facade, killing four people and injuring 15.

Swedish court documents obtained by AFP identified the suspect as Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek national.

Media reports said he had confessed, claiming he had been ordered by the Islamic State group to carry out the attack against "infidels".

Under rainy skies, the crowd observed a minute of silence at noon, many visibly moved with tears streaming down their cheeks as a carpet of flowers and candles covered the ground.

"I just want to cry, many died here. For nothing," said Fadi Mdalal, from Syria.

The four dead were two Swedes -- one of them an 11-year-old girl -- a British man, and a Belgian woman.

Many people thanked and hugged police officers guarding the scene, some offering them flowers, for their widely-praised response to the attack.

An official ceremony was held at the same time outside Stockholm's City Hall, attended by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, King Carl XVI Gustaf and most of the royal family, and Stockholm mayor Karin Wanngard.

"We will never let terror prevail," Wanngard said. "Stockholm will remain an open and tolerant city."

- Residency application rejected -

The motive for Friday's attack remains unconfirmed and no group has claimed the attack, but the method resembled previous rampages using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, all of them claimed by IS.

Police are continuing their investigation into Akilov, who they say went underground when he received a deportation order after his permanent residency application was rejected last year.

Swedish media have described the suspect as a construction worker and father of four.

A court in Stockholm is due to decide Tuesday on whether to grant prosecutors permission to remand Akilov in custody.

Court documents seen by AFP showed that he had requested his state-appointed lawyer be replaced by a Sunni Muslim, saying "only a lawyer of this faith could assert his interests in the best way", but the demand was refused.

The far-right Sweden Democrats party blasted authorities' failure to deport the suspect.

"It's a huge scandal if it's true," party leader Jimmie Akesson told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

"We need to detain people when there is a risk they will go underground, and there appear to be around 10,000 to 15,000 cases," said Akesson, whose party won almost 13 percent of votes in the 2014 legislative election.

However, national police commissioner Dan Eliasson said "there was nothing in the system that indicated (the suspect) would do something like what he did on Friday".

The country of 10 million people took in 244,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015, the highest per capita in Europe.

Justice Minister Morgan Johansson meanwhile told AFP he wants to beef up Sweden's anti-terror laws.

"We've criminalised foreign travel for terrorism purposes, we've extended (our laws) on terrorism financing. There is a possibility to extend them further."

- 'Mowed down the infidels' -

Akilov, arrested several hours after the attack, had expressed "sympathies for extremist organisations, including the Islamic State," senior police official Jonas Hysing told reporters.

The Aftonbladet and Expressen newspapers reported that he had confessed to the assault, saying he was "pleased with what he had done".

"I mowed down the infidels," he said, according to Aftonbladet, which cited sources close to the investigation.

The suspect reportedly said he had received an "order" directly from IS to carry out the attack.

"The bombings in Syria have to end," he was quoted as saying.

Police would not confirm whether he had confessed, but Eliasson said investigators were sure they had the truck driver, based on "discussions we've had with him".

According to police, components were found in the truck that could be used to make a "dangerous" object.

On Sunday, a second suspect was formally placed under arrest, Stockholm district court judge Helga Hullman told AFP, refusing to disclose any links between the two suspects.

"It can take up to a year to finish the investigation," the head of national police operations, Mats Lofving, said Monday.