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Sweden Raises Terror Threat Level to ‘High’ After Koran Burnings Fuel Anger

(Bloomberg) -- Sweden announced an increased level of terrorist threat following a series of Koran burnings that have sparked anger in the Muslim world.

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The threat level has been raised to four from three on a five-point scale, the head of the nation’s Security Service, Charlotte von Essen, said at a news conference. That implies a “high” threat, compared with the previous “elevated” level.

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“During this year, there has been a gradual worsening of the situation, where Sweden has moved from being seen as a legitimate target to a prioritized target for Islamist extremists,” she said. “This threat will remain for a considerable time.”

At a separate news conference, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said plans to commit attacks in Sweden have been thwarted in the wake of a number of public events where people have desecrated Islam’s holy book. The actions, which have also led to protests and riots, have been criticized by the Swedish government.

“There are several examples of terrorist groups that have urged sympathizers to avenge Koran burnings that have happened in Sweden,” Kristersson said. “We also cannot exclude that the attempted murder at the Swedish Honorary Consulate in Izmir had a political motive and was targeted against Sweden.”

Ministers are considering changing laws on public order to allow police to block provocations that may threaten national security. Previous attempts by the country’s law enforcement to stop Koran burnings have been struck down by courts on the basis of Sweden’s far-reaching rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

Read More: Why Koran Burning Has Sweden and Denmark in a Knot: QuickTake

In Sweden, authorities have assessed that the threat of terror attacks has been elevated since 2010. The most recent attack in the Nordic country happened in 2017, when an Uzbek man hijacked a truck and barreled through a busy Stockholm shopping street, killing five.

Authorities in the Nordic nation have long warned that it has been a target of disinformation campaigns aimed at portraying Sweden as a country that is hostile to Islam. Von Essen said intelligence agencies also have indications that foreign states have been using the focus on Sweden to fuel negative narratives for their own purposes, without naming any countries.

Read More: Posing as Islamists, Russian Hackers Take Aim at Sweden

The decision on Thursday to raise the threat level is not tied to any specific event and is mainly intended as a signal to society of a serious risk, according to von Essen.

“The assessment is based on what is currently known as well as potential future developments,” the director-general said, calling on authorities to double down on the work to prevent terror attacks.

The move comes after the UK government last week said travelers to Sweden should “maintain a high level of vigilance” as terrorists are “very likely” to attempt to carry out attacks.

(Updates with premier’s comments from fourth paragraph.)

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