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Stockholm bomber's friends recall friendly teenager

TRANAS, Sweden (Reuters) - Kind, clever and popular; that was how friends and acquaintances described Taimour Abdulwahab, the man now named as Sweden’s first suicide bomber.

Abdulwahab’s attack on Saturday, which ended up only killing himself and hurting two others, has sparked shock and alarm in Sweden, a country hitherto untouched by the kind of political violence that other European countries have experienced.

But the Abdulwahab described by residents in the small town of Tranas, where he lived for a decade after moving to Sweden as a boy, bore little resemblance to a militant fighter. He came across as neither a brooding loner nor a religious extremist.

“He was fun and smart. His whole family, his parents, were those kind of people,” said an employee at Abdulwahab’s high school who first met him just before he turned 20. She declined to give her name.

“He was very handsome and outgoing. No one would dream he could do something like this. I am absolutely devastated.”

Abdulwahab came to Tranas, about 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Stockholm, in 1992 around the age of 11. After graduating, he set off for England and studied at Bedfordshire University in Luton to become a sports therapist.

“It is so tragic to see how things turned out. He was someone who went around with people his age, both immigrants and Swedes,” said Elisabeth Aman, a principal at a school where his parents and sister studied Swedish when they moved to Tranas.

Most remembered Abdulwahab as a good-looking teenager who played basketball, had plenty of friends and was integrated into Swedish society.

“He lived here so long that he became a Tranas boy, and was seen as one,” said Aman, whose daughters had gone to school with Abdulwahab.

Tranas, with about 18,000 residents, is one of many towns in Sweden that experienced a wave of immigration. Sweden’s relatively open immigration policies made it a prime destination for many people from war-torn countries, though integration has not always been easy.

SHOCK AND DISMAY

Abdulwahab’s mother, a specialist in Arabic literature, often helped out at his high school library. His father trained as an engineer, but had to pick up work in a store selling vegetables and overseas delicacies.

The town looks much like any other comfortable Swedish town, with a picturesque river running through it and storefront windows displaying handicrafts and knitted wool sweaters. Now it is now trying to come to grips with what has happened.

“Our teachers have said we should try to talk about it, and that we may feel worse if we don’t. It’s just terrible,” said Adam Hansson, a 15-year-old attending Abdulwahab’s high school.

Abdulwahab’s 16-year-old sister also attends the same school, but classmates said they had not seen her on Monday.

Abdulwahab is thought to be the author of a threatening letter sent to a Swedish news agency shortly before the attack.

In the note, he vowed revenge for Sweden’s troop presence in Afghanistan and its defense of Lars Vilks, an artist who sparked anger in 2007 with his drawings of the Prophet Mohammad.

For at least one resident, the message struck a chord.

“This wouldn’t have happened if Lars Vilks had kept quiet and if Sweden hadn’t gone into Afghanistan. What is Sweden doing there?” asked a 25-year-old Iraqi on the town’s main street. He said he had moved to the town as a boy as well.

But most residents registered only shock and dismay.

One neighbor, Mona Svensson, said she saw a white Audi parked outside their apartment building last week. It was the car that days later burst into flames in central Stockholm.

School principal Aman said it would be always difficult to reconcile the boy she knew with the man on the news.

“If I had heard that he was from another place, I would have felt sick and angry. But when one knows who it was, and when one’s children have spent time with him -- this is such a small town -- I can’t call him a terrorist because, of course, I don’t think of him that way.”

Editing by Jon Hemming

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