LONDON (Reuters) - Information posted online about the suspect in a botched suicide attack in Sweden suggests he had help from others in publicizing the incident and maybe also in planning it, security experts say.
Investigators examining the first fatal bombing by a suspected Islamist militant in Europe since 2007 are examining messages posted by an admirer who has threatened more such attacks if Western troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan.
The activist, who signs messages Abu Suleiman al-Nasser, drew interest from investigators on Sunday when he published a photograph of the bomber, Taymour Abdulwahab, and named him publicly before the authorities had done so.
“Publishing the photograph is particularly worrying,” said Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College.
“Who is this person Abu Suleiman? Why does he have such good intelligence? Unless authorities can find this individual, and make tracking him down a high priority, there may be other attacks, there may be other strands to this.”
Abdulwahab, a Swedish national of Middle Eastern origin who had studied in Britain, was killed by the detonation of an explosives belt he was wearing on Saturday. Shortly beforehand, a car containing gas canisters blew up in central Stockholm.
On Monday Al-Nasser posted another message about the incident, the first fatal bombing by a suspected Islamist militant in European capital since bombings in London in 2005.
Reiterating a longstanding militant demand that Western forces leave Afghanistan, he noted that he had made a similar call in a Nov 19 posting about a NATO summit in Lisbon. That earlier message was little noticed at the time as it was just one of an increasing flurry of militant threats to Europe posted online by propagandists over recent months.
But his access to information about Abdulwahab, suggesting he had foreknowledge of the attack, has sent investigators on a trawl through cyberspace to try to uncover more of his postings.
“If you do not (withdraw), then you should expect the flame of battle to reach the heart of Europe,” he said in Monday’s posting. “The battle of Stockholm is the start of a new era in our jihad, when Europe will become the arena for our battles.”
Not everyone sees links between Abdulwahab and al-Nasser.
Thomas Hegghammer, an Islamist scholar at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said it was possible al-Nasser had some connection to the attack, but equally he may have been able to get Abdulwahab’s name from pictures of the license plate of the bombed car posted on non-militant websites on Saturday.
“There could be a couple of people in Sweden or in Luton who were directly involved, but I would be very surprised if Taimour took orders from AQ (al Qaeda) in Pakistan or from ISI in Iraq,” he added in a blog, referring to al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate.
A British security source said it was too early in the probe to draw conclusions about a possible conspiracy.
Security specialists caution that militant propagandists like al-Nasser militants have an interest in stoking fear among target populations to cause maximum disruption for Western societies and political stress for Western governments.
But suspicions of a wider conspiracy persist.
Investigators will be looking for possible clues in Britain, where his wife and two children live and where he had studied. British media quoted neighbors as saying he was last seen in Luton two and a half weeks before the attack.
“Preparing and mounting terrorist attacks are not easy things to do,” said Henry Wilkinson, a terrorism expert at Janusian risk consultancy in London.
“They take time, money and require certain skills. I would be surprised if he was able to assemble the explosive devices, no matter how crude, on his own in the short time he was in Sweden without support, especially if he hadn’t had training.”
Sajjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation security consultancy said it remained to be seen whether any accomplices were a local group of “lone wolves” bonded by common ideology or part of a transnational group like al Qaeda.
A message sent by Abdulwahab in Swedish and Arabic to media 10 minutes before he died, linking his action to the Afghan war and cartoons deemed offensive to Islam, is also seen as a sign of possible collaboration. It reflects the same concerns as al-Nasser’s messages.
Also, his Iraqi birth, and his mention in the message of visiting the Middle East to wage jihad or holy war, suggest to some that he trained in Iraq. His mention in the message of “Islamic states” is taken by some experts to refer to al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq.
In 2007, that group issued a threat against Sweden, in response to a drawing published in a Swedish newspaper that depicted the head of the Prophet Muhammad on the body of a dog.
“You will learn how to kneel down in humiliation,” it said. “We reserve the right to punish those who committed the crime.”
Editing by Ralph Boulton