The Stockholm suicide bomber missed causing a massive catastrophe by a matter of minutes, the Swedish foreign minister has said.
Carl Bildt described how Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, 28, was heading towards crowds of people when the bomb went off.
Swedish authorities are working closely with the UK to investigate the botched plan, which left al-Abdaly dead and two people injured, and the bomber’s links to Britain under scrutiny.
The Iraq-born graduate of Bedfordshire University left his wife and three children at their family home in Luton to travel to Sweden several weeks ago.
Swedish investigators said he visited family in Tranas where his father was celebrating his birthday. But on Saturday he loaded his white Audi with gas canisters and travelled to Stockholm in a bid to wreak carnage on streets packed with Christmas shoppers.
Evidence from the scene indicated the car failed to explode and al-Abdaly was killed about 300 metres away when explosives strapped to his chest detonated. Police suspect the device may have exploded prematurely as the terrorist walked to a nearby subway station or department store laden with three bombs.
Mr Bildt told BBC2’s Newsnight the Swedish authorities were making an “intensive” effort to work out if al-Abdaly was acting alone or with accomplices. He also said Swedish media were reporting that al-Abdaly “was profoundly transformed by something that happened while he was in the UK”. But asked if he believed the bomber was radicalised in Britain, he replied: “We don’t know and it might be that we never find out.”
Mr Bildt said: “It looks like he was heading into probably the most crowded place in Stockholm at the most crowded time of the year. He was heading into a place where, if he had exploded all the ordnance he had with him – and that was quite substantial – it would have been mass casualties of a sort we haven’t seen in Europe for quite some time. (We were) just minutes and a couple of hundreds of metres away from something catastrophic.”
Al-Abdaly was driven out of Luton Islamic Centre for preaching about suicide bombings and attempting to recruit extremists, according to religious leaders.
Email threats sent to security police and Swedish news agency TT before the blasts have been linked to al-Abdaly’s mobile phone. In a chilling audio message, believed to be recorded by al-Abdaly, a man warned “our actions will speak for themselves”. Speaking with an English accent, the extremist can be heard warning that an “Islamic state” has been created and many will die.