Security Police Chief Charlotte von Essen at a press conference at the Security Police regarding the deteriorating security situation in Stockholm, Sweden, 17 August 2023. EPA-EFE/Henrik Montgomery SWEDEN OUT


Sweden raises terror alert to second-highest level


Sweden’s security service SAPO has put the terrorist-threat level against the nation at 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 over rising tensions following a series of Quran burnings in the Scandinavian country.

The elevated ranking indicates strong concern that destructive actors have the intention and ability to carry out attacks in Sweden.

SAPO chief Charlotte von Essen urged the public to continue as usual but to pay attention to what information authorities may provide. She said that Sweden was becoming an “increased focus” for Islamic extremists: “We have gone from a legitimate target to a priority target for violent Islamism.”

The change is reportedly not based on any suspected impending event but rather a strategic and long-term decision.

Von Essen stated that disinformation campaigns depicting Sweden as a country with Islamophobic tendencies had played a role in the heightened threat level.

“It is also important not to believe unconfirmed information or rumours. Be critical of the source,” she advised.

Susanna Trehörning of the Swedish police added: “At this moment, we cannot provide a more detailed description [other] than the fact that we are seeing indications.

“We know that extremist groups and foreign powers often exploit situations like the one Sweden is currently in, where there is polarisation and descriptions of Sweden as hostile towards Muslims. They use it to foster further division.”

Since 2010, the assessment of the terrorist threat level has consistently remained at 3 in Sweden, with the exception of a short span during 2015-2016 when it was raised to 4.

The Swedish Armed Forces also announced that it was raising the terrorist-threat level against its personnel to 4, in line with the security service’s assessment.

Ex-prime minister and former Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt said SAPO’s decision was “necessary and prudent in the current situation”.

“We must not bury our heads in the sand regarding the consequences of what has happened,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Sweden had in recent weeks warned citizens abroad and businesses linked to the country to “observe increased vigilance and caution”.

The UK had already changed its travel recommendations regarding Sweden on August 13, with the Foreign Office warning visitors: “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Sweden. You should maintain a high level of vigilance in public spaces.” The United States did the same.

Angry extremists are suspected of possibly targeting Sweden after a number of Quran burnings, some by far-right activists and others by disgruntled Christian refugees.

Despite strong opposition, the Swedish courts approved that form of protest based on the freedom of speech, which has annoyed those who regard such burnings as blasphemy and want to ban the practice altogether.

Denmark also saw some Quran burnings and in that country the terror alert level was already at the second-highest.