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Stockholm attack: Did suspect act alone or as part of jihadi group?

Stockholm attack Saturday appears to be the first suicide bombing in Sweden's history. An audio file sent to a Swedish news agency before the blast referred to jihad, Sweden's military presence in Afghanistan, and a cartoon by a Swedish artist that depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a dog.

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German tourist Melanie Ziethmann, 34, said she heard the bang of the explosion Saturday but didn't realize what it was until a friend in Germany contacted her to make sure she was OK.

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"We were surprised that this happened in Sweden," Ziethmann said. "It was quite shocking. I thought it was very safe here."

In October, Sweden raised its terror threat alert level from low to elevated because of what police called "a shift in activities" among Swedish-based groups that could be plotting attacks.

Days later, police made several arrests in an alleged bomb plot in the country's second-largest city, Goteborg. The suspects were later released and police said the city was no longer deemed under threat.

Magnus Norell, a terrorism expert at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, said it was just a matter of time before Sweden was hit by a terrorist attack.

"Sweden isn't an isolated island, even if we might think that sometimes," he said. "We have only been lucky so far."

Norell said Sweden has the same growing radicalization among Islamic groups as other countries, with young men traveling to training camps in countries such as Somalia and Pakistan.

"The whole idea is that this is a global war for them and that the target exists everywhere, all over the world," he said.

The 2007 drawing of the Prophet Muhammad by Lars Vilks has raised tensions before in Sweden. In May, Vilks was assaulted while giving a speech in Uppsala, and vandals unsuccessfully tried to burn down his home in southern Sweden.

Tension over immigration also has been growing in this nation of 9.4 million. Sweden attracted more Iraqi refugees following the U.S. toppling of Saddam Hussein than any other country in the West, but calls for restrictions have increased in recent years and in September the far-right Sweden Democrats entered Parliament for the first time, winning 20 of the 349 seats.

On Sunday, about 100 people assembled in chilly central Stockholm for a peaceful demonstration organized by Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice.

"We felt a responsibility to sharply condemn the attack, but it would be naive to think that yesterday's events aren't going to have a negative effect on the perception of Muslims in Sweden," said Samaa Sarsour, 26, one of the main organizers of the rally. She urged the crowd to punch the air and kick out their feet in a display of defiance against the hijacking of religion by extremists.

Saturday's blast could have been disastrous if the car explosions had set off gas canisters inside the vehicle.

"We were really blessed there. Something must have gone wrong, because it is a fairly normal way of arming a car to get maximum destructive effect," Norell said. Had it succeeded, it could have injured people "in all possible directions," he said.


Paul O'Mahony also contributed to this report.

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