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Attack Meant To Stop Sweden Fighting IS, Uzbek Defendant Tells Court


Rakhmat Akilov is accused of killing five people by driving a delivery truck into pedestrians on a busy shopping street in Stockholm in April 2017.

A rejected Uzbek asylum seeker who has admitted to a truck attack that killed five people in Stockholm has told a court that his aim was to force Sweden to end its fight against the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

"I wanted Sweden to stop sending soldiers to war zones where the Islamic State is being attacked," defendant Rakhmat Akilov said at a February 20 hearing at his trial in the Swedish capital.

Akilov, 39, is accused of terrorism for stealing a delivery truck on April 7, 2017, and ramming it into pedestrians on a busy shopping street.

The attack killed three Swedes, including an 11-year-old girl, as well as a British man and a Belgian woman. Ten other people were injured.

Akilov, who spoke in Russian through an interpreter, said he also wanted Sweden "to stop sending gigantic sums of money to combat the caliphate" -- a reference to the state that IS wants to create.

He claimed he was "not inspired" by any specific attack, "as there were very many," but was aware of previous attacks in Berlin, London, and Nice in which assailants used vehicles to plow into people.

Akilov also saw statements by other attackers and calls for attacks made on Internet sites used by IS, he told the court.

Akilov, whose Swedish asylum application was turned down in 2016, had sworn allegiance to IS on the eve of his assault in one of Europe's safest cities, though neither IS nor any other group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sweden has some 70 military personnel based mainly in northern Iraq to provide training as part of the U.S.-led coalition against IS.

The prosecution has requested a life sentence for Akilov, who police say confessed to the attack and told them he wanted to run down what he called "infidels."

"Akilov took the truck...and drove it the way the prosecutor described. He killed five people and physically injured 10," defense lawyer Johan Eriksson told the Stockholm district court hearing.

The trial is scheduled to run through May, with a verdict expected the next month.

A joint investigation by RFE/RL's Uzbek and Tajik services and Swedish news agency TT found that Akilov was in direct contact with alleged IS militants from Tajikistan before, during, and after the Stockholm attack.

Akilov, a construction worker and an ethnic Tajik from Uzbekistan, was arrested a few hours after the Stockholm attack, and police said he confessed the next day.

Eriksson said in January that his client had not expected to survive the attack.

Prosecutors say the suspect wanted to "create fear in the population at large" and "force the Swedish government and parliament to halt Sweden's participation in an international training mission in Iraq" aimed at helping the country to dislodge the IS group.

During the court proceedings on February 13, they played a video where Akilov swore allegiance to IS and presented several conversations on WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, and Zello that were found on his phone.

Of 209 messages, prosecutor Hans Ihrman said 16 were "interesting," especially those on a Zello chat forum where Akilov spoke to contacts using the pseudonyms Muovia Regari, Abu Aisha, Muhammad, and Abu Fotima, among others.

RFE/RL found the aliases to be the same names used by alleged Tajik IS recruiters.

According to the prosecutor, Akilov wrote to one of his contacts on January 19, 2017, "I'm working and saving money and God willing I will carry out the martyr operation."

He also wrote a list of potential targets to one contact, including a synagogue, a ferry transporting "sinners," and a nightclub. "There are plenty of infidels here," he wrote.

Several truck attacks have been perpetrated in Europe and the United States in recent years.

The deadliest attack, claimed by IS militants, occurred in Nice in July 2016, when a truck rammed crowds leaving a celebration of France's national holiday, killing 86 people.

Uzbek national Sayfullo Saipov is suspected of plowing a rented truck into pedestrians and cyclists in New York City on October 31, killing eight people.

Because of the growing number of such truck attacks, Ihrman said Akilov's trial had drawn an international audience.

"We can learn about the radicalization process and how they are carrying out this kind of act. I think it's a big interest for everybody who is punished by attacks like this throughout Europe," he told reporters in Stockholm.

With reporting by AP and dpa
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