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1 Aug, 2023 13:56

Sweden ramps up security after Quran burnings

Citing a heightened terrorist threat, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has announced new police powers
Sweden ramps up security after Quran burnings

Sweden’s borders will be tightened and police given new stop and search powers, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson announced on Tuesday. Kristersson warned that a spate of Quran burnings in the country has triggered “the most serious security situation since the Second World War.”

The new measures will be temporary, Kristersson said, adding that his government is also considering legislation that would allow police to stop people burning the Muslim holy book if such stunts would threaten Sweden’s national security.

Iraqi Christian immigrants burned a copy of the Quran outside the Swedish parliament building on Monday, the third such incident in a month. Sweden’s freedom of speech laws permit the burning of holy texts, but the protests have sparked fears of an Islamist backlash.

“We are currently in the most serious security situation since the Second World War,” Kristersson said in a statement on Sunday, adding that “states and state-like actors are actively exploiting the situation.” Swedish authorities have been issuing similar warnings for several months, with the country’s counterterrorism agency stating in February that it had seen “an increase in the number of terrorist threats” after a Danish right-wing activist burned a Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in January.

“In a free country like Sweden, you have a great deal of freedom. But with that great degree of freedom comes a great degree of responsibility,” Kristersson told reporters on Tuesday. “Everything that is legal is not necessarily appropriate. It can be awful but still lawful. We try to promote a respectful tone between countries and peoples.”

In Denmark, where similar free speech laws permit the desecration of holy books, Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said on Sunday that the government is searching for “a legal tool” to carve out an exception for the Quran.

The burnings have been vehemently condemned by the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), while individual Muslim-majority states have summoned their Swedish ambassadors to complain. Protests have broken out at Swedish embassies in Muslim countries, while Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei warned Stockholm that “those who have insulted the Holy Quran deserve the severest punishment.”

The rash of incidents has also undermined Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his support for Sweden’s accession during a summit of NATO leaders in Lithuania earlier this month, he had previously declared that he would not sign off on accession “as long as [Sweden allows] my holy book, the Quran, to be burned and torn.”