Scandinavia witnessed its first suicide bombing yesterday when a man blew himself up in Stockholm, killing nobody but himself. There is an excellent roundup here (Swedish only, i am afraid).  Key information points:

  • The bomber has been identified as Taimour Abdalwahhab al-Abdaly, a 28-year old man of Iraqi origin who moved to Sweden in 1992. He leaves a wife and three children. See here and here for profiles.
  • The bomber sent an audio statement to a Swedish news agency shortly before the blast. The recording is available here.
  • In the statement the bomber says he recently traveled to the Middle East “for jihad”. His Facebook page reportedly contained recent pictures of him in Jordan.
  • The bomber lived for a while in Luton, UK, a city with a well known community of radical Islamists.
  • The bomber’s facebook page reportedly carried gradually more jihadi videos starting in the spring of 2010
  • A Swedish explosives expert who examined pictures from the scene described the bomb as amateurish.
  • The jihadi internet forum Shumukh has several threads devoted to the incident (see e.g. here, here, here, here, here and here). The bomber is referred to by other forum members as “our brother“, but this is a standard phrase and does not necessarily indicate a prior connection. So far there are no claims of responsibility by a known organization or jihadi media entity.

Key questions:

1) Did the bomber have operational accomplices in Sweden?

Maybe, maybe not. One the one hand, it is true that solo acts are relatively rare, especially when they involve a suicide operation. Sweden does have a certain number or radicalized Muslims. Moreover, in the audio statement, the speaker uses the prononoun “we”. It also sounded to me like there could have been a second person on the recording; at one point there is a cough, and it sounds as if it is coming from someone who is closer to the microphone than the main speaker. On the other hand solo acts are becoming more frequent, and the operation itself does not seem to have been particularly sophisticated. It is perfectly possible that the bomber acted alone. Having said that, he cannot have radicalized in a vacuum. He must have been in touch with other activists at some stage, on the Internet and/or in the field.

2) Did he receive training somewhere in the Middle East, and if so, where?

I personally think it is very likely that he did, not just because he says so himself, but also because a suicide operation requires a very high level of radicalization, of the kind that usually develops through social interaction. If he did train, it was most likely in Iraq.

3) Was he in touch with known militants during his time in Britain?

It is not impossible, but you would think that this would have put him on the authorities’ radar long ago. Moreover, his reported Facebook activities suggest his radicalisation did not begin until this year.

4) Was he active on jihadi internet forums?

He was reportedly a consumer of online propaganda, but we don’t yet know if he was a very active contributor. He has not yet been tied to a specific online alias, but I would not be surprised if it turns out he has left a trail of writings. If he was a prominent contributor, we can probably expect his online buddies to out him in not too long.

If pressed to make a guess about what this whole thing is about, I would say the available evidence points toward a solo act or a very small cell. If a bigger group were involved, we wouldn’t have had the makeshift audiostatement before the incident, but a more elaborate video released some time afterward. The bombing device would also have been much more effective. My guess – and I stress that this is pure speculation – is that Taimour initially radicalised primarily on the Internet and then went on a short trip to Iraq to experience the real thing. In the field, he radicalized further, learned to make bombs, and decided to return home and blow himself up there, possibly with the help of a close friend or two.

I may be completely wrong, but in any case we will find out fairly soon. A lot more details will emerge in the coming days as the press jumps on this guy’s family and acquaintances, investigators pore over his computer, and intel agencies compare notes. That’s the downside to being a mujahid in the digital age.

To be continued.

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5 Responses

  1. If I were to wager, I would bet he was a member of Ansar al-Mujahideen Arabic forum first, Faloja (now extinct) second, al-Shmukh third.

    I’ll get archives of his Facebook pages and images posted soon (within a day or so). All is as reported. no surprises.

    It will be interesting to check out his favorite videos in depth, just to get a feel for what he liked to watch. In general I noticed a strong anti-Shiite element to his political postings (perhaps not unusual for an Iraqi Sunni).

    The UK connection will be interesting to unravel – I’ll tell you right now he’s on the periphery of Samir Khan’s social network, specifically the UK branch of Samir’s social network. Strength of weak ties and all that.

    All for now.

    Happy Holidays…

  2. The Internet signs of his radicalisation that we are able to find began a year ago. Every individual’s radicalisation is different but even so-called incidents of ‘Sudden Jihad Syndrome’ end up being processes that have taken years. It may not be possible to pinpoint when al-Abdaly’s began, but if I was a betting man, I’d put my money on this starting more than a year ago.

  3. I pulled his photo off one jihad site and read his message posted. The use of the word “we” would in general manner denote a cell structure, as would his reference to London. But within the jurisprudential schools the use of “we” denotes authority, just as in the Qur’an the use of “We” with the word Allah is for grammatical strength as opposed to a God of Trinity.

    Tammy Swofford

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