| A passport picture of Swedish citizen Chatty Kerim Sadok. (AFP)
Stockholm, Aug. 31 (Reuters): A Swedish man of Tunisian origin, arrested on suspicion he was about to hijack a plane, was planning to crash the aircraft into a US embassy in Europe, Swedish intelligence and police sources said today.
A top police official said the man had taken flying lessons in the United States — adding to fears of copycat attacks as the first anniversary of the September 11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington approaches.
However, intelligence sources and police were at odds over the incident, which began when a gun was found in the man’s hand luggage as he boarded a flight to Britain from Vasteras, west of Stockholm. One police official flatly denied the embassy plan.
A highly-placed intelligence source said police were hunting four more men, including an explosives expert, who were believed to have worked on the plan with the suspect, aged 29.
“We know for sure that the plan was to crash the plane into a US embassy in Europe,” the source told Reuters. The report was certain to unnerve Western governments who have already ordered extra security precautions ahead of the September 11 attacks — carried out by hijackers who had learned to fly the aircraft in courses in the United States.
But a source in Sweden’s Sapo security police said Sapo had been instructed by the government to play the incident down at a politically sensitive time, two weeks before an election.
Margareta Linderoth, a Sapo official responsible for several departments including the one handling international terrorism, denied that police believed the arrested man was planning to attack an embassy or that four more men were being sought.
“I have never heard that the man has planned to do what you say he has,” she told Reuters. “We are not looking for four other men.”
Linderoth told Swedish radio that the suspect had taken flying lessons in the United States but had not completed his training. It was possible he had qualified since then, she said. Another Sapo source told Reuters the security police were working on the theory that the group were planning to crash at least one plane, and possibly more, into a US embassy.
They did not know which embassy had been targeted. The man’s lawyer, Nils Uggla, said his client denied that he had anything to do with terrorism or any attacks. Asked why his client had a gun, Uggla told Reuters: “He has given an explanation to me and to the police and I am forbidden to give you the explanation.”
Swedish police do not believe the arrested man or anyone he was working with were part of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida group, blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks. Instead they believe a copycat attack was being planned.