Serene Stockholm loses its lustre with terror attack

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Drottninggatan in Stockholm, Sweden - Photograph: Bengt Nyman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia]

Never once did Benedict Lopez believe such a misfortune could befall Stockholm. The city will never be the same again to him.

Once a very peaceful city, Stockholm like many cities all over the world has fallen victim to a terror attack. The attack, around 2.50pm local time on Friday, 7 April 2017, shook not only the city, but also the entire country.

A man drove a stolen beer truck into a crowd in a well-known shopping centre in the heart of Stockholm and then rammed it into a department store, Ahlens. According to Swedish police the attack claimed four lives – two Swedes, one Briton and a Belgian – and left 15 people injured.

The fallout from this attack was perhaps felt in cities throughout Europe after the recent attacks in London, Brussels and Paris.

Ironically, Stockholmers were resilient and faced adversity with tranquillity. People with prams and dog lovers converged on the city while police personnel at the crime scene carried out their investigations. A variety of flowers and bouquets were placed at the spot where the attack took place.

Efficiency in dealing with the calamity was exemplified when Stockholm City Council’s crisis management plan was up and running eight minutes after news broke of the incident on Stockholm’s busiest shopping street Drottninggatan (Queens Street).

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Police responded swiftly to the tragedy, and in a rare show of unity, politicians from both sides of the political divide bestowed accolades on Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for his leadership during this dark period in Stockholm.

I am familiar with the spot where the attack took place as it is located about two kilometres from our embassy and about the same distance from the apartment where I lived for more than four years.

The area where the attack took place is adjacent to the central station. I passed by this way everyday except for the time I was away in Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland on official duty. The tunnelbana (underground train station) has many exits: one at T-Central and another next to the Ahlens shopping mall. It is also a about a kilometre away from St Eugenia’s Church, where I used to attend services.

Personally, I felt deeply saddened when I learnt of the attack, as on weekends I used to meet up with friends or buy what I required from around this area. My friends and I used to catch up over dim sum at a Chinese restaurant just behind Ahlens. The area around T-Central is a hive of activity on weekends with shoppers, strollers and tourists.

Sometimes, as part of my daily exercise regime, I would walk all the way from my apartment in Sodermalm through Slussen to T-Central and back home via Gamla Stan (Old Town), often stopping at Ahlens for some purchases. During summer, I would wake up at around 5am for my daily exercises, sometimes being the lone ranger on many streets in Stockholm.

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Never once did I believe then that such a misfortune could befall Stockholm. During my stay in Stockholm (2010-2014), it was so safe that one could walk all over the city’s precincts way past midnight without fear of being mugged, let alone experiencing a terror attack.

Stockholm will never be the same again to me, and I will have to be vigilant the next time I visit the city.

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Benedict Lopez

Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries – not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

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