A sword-wielding man who killed two people at a Swedish school with many immigrant pupils was motivated by racism, police said Friday (23 October), as hostility towards refugees mounts across Europe.
Investigators in the southwestern Swedish town of Trollhättan confirmed that Thursday’s school attack was a “racially motivated” hate crime, based on the 21-year-old assailant’s “attire, his behaviour at the scene of the crimes”.
Police investigator Thor Haraldsson said the assailant targeted “those with dark complexions”.
The killer, identified in the media as Anton Lundin-Pettersson, went from classroom to classroom at the school for six to 15-year-olds.
He killed one teacher and a student, and injured another teacher and student who both remained in hospital on Friday.
On his social media accounts, the attacker comes across as a loner fascinated by Hitler, Nazi Germany and Sweden’s far-right Sweden Democrats party, which is critical of Islam and rising immigration to Sweden.
A country of 9.8 million, Sweden expects to receive up to 190,000 asylum applications this year — putting it among the EU states with the highest proportion of refugees per capita as the continent struggles with a massive influx of migrants.
Support for the far-right has mounted as Sweden’s ability to house and integrate the new arrivals comes under strain.
An opinion poll on Friday showed the Sweden Democrats garnering 15.7% of voter sympathies, up from the 12.9% it won in the 2014 election when it became the country’s third-largest party. Other polls have in recent months suggest it has become Sweden’s biggest party.
The Sweden Democrats recently said they wanted a referendum to be held on the government’s generous immigration policy, though they have little chance of obtaining such a vote.
More than a dozen arson attacks this year have targeted refugee reception centres and apartments in Sweden, reducing some of them to cinders.
Swedish anti-racism magazine Expo said a “rhetoric of hatred” was blowing across the Scandinavian country.
“The risk is that we will see an escalation, legitimised by doomsday rhetoric and fomented in hatred’s digital echochamber,” editor-in-chief Daniel Poohl wrote.
Attacks on refugees
The rising anti-immigration trend can be seen across Europe, as more than 600,000 migrants and refugees — mainly fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — have made the dangerous journey this year, according to the UN.
In Germany, which is bracing for up to a million asylum requests this year, officials said Thursday they had foiled an extremist plot to torch two asylum centres, arresting 13 members of a far-right movement.
Reports have also emerged of assaults on boats carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece in the Aegean Sea.
In Switzerland, the rightwing populist SVP registered a record score in recent elections, and Austria’s far-right posted its best-ever election result in Vienna earlier this month.
With at least 9,000 people landing on Europe’s beaches every day, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has urged EU nations to share the burden for helping those in need.
“Let’s not write poems or make promises, let’s act because there is urgency,” he said. “We must be conscious of our responsibility,” he added.
On Friday, some 5,000 people arrived overnight at the Berkasovo border crossing between Serbia and Croatia and had to wait in fog and freezing temperatures to enter Croatia, the UN refugee agency said.
People lit fires to warm themselves, while some slept on the ground under blankets. Children could be heard crying in their tents.
“So many children, (this is) a catastrophe!,” a police officer said.
The EU is to hold a mini summit on Sunday with Balkan countries situated on the migrant route, as Slovenia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Croatia have demanded financial help to cope with the large influx.
Buckling under the surge of refugees, Slovenia on Friday threatened to copy Hungary and erect a wall to keep migrants out.
- 25 October: Juncker to meet EU and Balkan leaders for a mini-summit in Brussels.