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Stockholm Truck Attack Suspect Pleads Guilty As Trial Opens


Uzbek Suspect Had Contact With IS Militants During Stockholm Truck Attack
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WATCH: Failed Uzbek asylum seeker Rakhmat Akilov, accused of carrying out a deadly truck attack in Stockholm in April, had contact with high-ranking IS militants, according to an investigation by RFE/RL's Uzbek and Tajik services with Swedish news agency TT.

The suspect in a deadly truck attack that stunned Sweden in April 2017 has pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial in a Stockholm court.

At the hearing on February 13, Rakhmat Akilov's lawyer said the Uzbekistan native was bent on causing "fear" and driving Sweden out of the U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

Akilov, who appeared in handcuffs in a high-security courtroom, is accused of stealing a truck and plowing it into a crowd on a pedestrian street in Stockholm on April 7, killing five people, including an 11-year-old girl, as well as a 41-year-old British man and a 31-year-old Belgian woman.

Akilov was also charged with subjecting 150 people to the risk of death or serious injury. Many of the victims sustained permanent injuries such as brain damage, hearing impairments, or amputated legs.

The prosecution has requested a life sentence for the 39-year-old, 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.

Eriksson said his client aimed "to instigate fear and to get Sweden to end its participation in the international coalition against [IS]."

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

Akilov is scheduled to address the court on February 20. The trial is scheduled to run through May, with a verdict expected the next month.

No organization has claimed responsibility for the attack.

But 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 Islamic State (IS) militants from Tajikistan before, during, and after the Stockholm attack.

Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda told RFE/RL that Swedish authorities have not been in contact with Dushanbe over Akilov’s ties with suspected Tajik members of IS.

Akilov, a construction worker and an ethnic Tajik from Uzbekistan whose Swedish asylum application was rejected in 2016, 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.

RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Sirojiddin Tolibov said they were aliases that only senior IS militants would use.

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 has 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 AFP, AP, dpa, TT, and RFE/RL’s Uzbek and Tajik services
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