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Premature blast averted more casualties

Stockholm, Dec. 13: Two days after bombs exploded in downtown Stockholm, the police offered new details today indicating that one of the bombs had gone off prematurely, narrowly averting what could have been a much more devastating attack in a crowded commercial district filled with holiday shoppers.

The police also appeared to confirm that the bomber was a disaffected Iraqi-born Swede who had attended college in Britain.

At a news conference today, the police initially refused to identify the bomber, whom British and Swedish newspapers, citing government sources, had said was Taimour al-Abdaly, a 28-year-old Sunni whose family moved to Sweden from Baghdad in 1992.

But in answering questions from reporters, Anders Thornberg, the police officer heading the investigation, effectively confirmed that the police were working on the assumption that the dead attacker was Abdaly. Tomas Lindstrand, chief prosecutor for the security police in Sweden, said earlier in the news conference that there “hasn’t been a formal identification yet, not by DNA, or by his parents, or by some other people who are very familiar with him”. Still, he said the police were “98 percent sure” of his identity.

When Thornberg was asked later in the news conference whether that comment referred to identifying the bomber as Abdaly, he nodded and answered “Yes”.

Lindstrand said that interviews conducted by police in the past 24 hours with eyewitnesses and others had provided “a slightly better picture” of the bombing, which probably involved three explosive devices. The man who died in the second explosion was carrying two bombs, one strapped to his waist and another in his backpack, the police said. They added that the car involved in the first explosion, an ageing white Audi 80 that been bought in November, had also been rigged as a bomb, using canisters of gas.

A report in the Stockholm newspaper Expressen said the bomber appeared to have set off one of the two bombs he was carrying when he stumbled. “It’s not unreasonable to assume that he could have made a mistake, so that a portion of the bomb detonated and caused his death,” Lindstrand said. “There is speculation that he was on his way to a place where there are a lot of people. This was in the middle of Stockholm, in the middle of Christmas; it’s not a daring guess.”

The police said it appeared that Abdaly had not been working alone in the attack. “He was definitely on his own in the execution,” Thornberg said, adding that “from experience, we know that there are usually more people involved in such actions.”

The suspect’s possible link to Britain was reinforced last night when the Metropolitan Police in London said that officers were conducting a search at an address in Luton, the city in which Abdaly attended college. A spokesman said the search was made “in connection with the incidents in Stockholm”.

Today, British police also closed off at least one street in a heavily Muslim area of Luton as they conducted searches related to the Stockholm attack. A run-down city an hour north of London, Luton was also the starting point for the four bombers in the attacks on the London transit system that killed 56 people, including the bombers, on July 7, 2005.

The family of Abdaly told reporters by telephone yesterday that they had lost contact with their son. “The whole family is in shock, and wants to find out what happened,” Expressen quoted Abdaly’s father as saying.

In a recent profile he placed on an Islamic dating website, Muslima.com, the younger Abdaly appears as a tall, stern-looking, neatly dressed man standing in front of a white curtain, his dark hair cropped short, with a trimmed black beard.

“I am married since 2004,” he said on his dating profile, according to a translation of the original Arabic. He described himself as “very religious” and said that he had two daughters, aged three and one. “I want to get married again,” he said, “and would like to have a BIG family. My wife agreed to this. I am looking for a practicing Muslim, Sunni, who loves children and wants to please Allah before me,” he said. “I am looking mostly for religion.”

Sweden’s Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, told reporters at a news conference that an investigation led by the Swedish intelligence agency Sapo was still working to establish links among the two explosions in Stockholm, the dead man who was found with blast wounds to his abdomen and the threatening messages sent to the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra shortly before the explosions. Those message were sent from a mobile phone, the police said.

Reinfeldt, who leads a Centre-Right coalition government, said the police were “treating this as a terrorist action”, but he appealed to Swedes not to jump to “the wrong conclusions” or allow preliminary reports about the explosions to stir fresh tensions over Sweden’s growing immigrant population, which includes about 450,000 Muslims. Sweden’s “openness is worth giving ourselves the time to get to the bottom of this”, he said.

The blasts have caused widespread consternation in Sweden. The country has long prided itself on having created a tolerant and peaceful society, and on having avoided involvement in the upheavals that have ravaged much of Europe in modern times, including World War II.

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