A few weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Sweden, a team of U.S. security agents have designated the Scandinavian nation as “high risk” due to the assassinations of two prominent politicians in the past. According to a report in Sweden’s Expressen newspaper, a group of Secret Service agents have studied the capital city of Stockholm in advance of Obama’s visit to gauge the danger the president may face in early September during his official visit.
Reportedly, the agents have cited two high-profile murders of Swedish political leaders -- Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003 – which took place in Stockholm. They also noted that public buildings and government offices in the city are easily accessible, enhancing the risk to senior politicians. Palme’s assassination has never been solved, although his killing inspired various conspiracy theories. Lindh’s death – she was stabbed to death in a department store in central Stockholm – was perpetrated by Mijailo Mijailovic, a Swede of Serbian descent, who is now in prison for life.
Olle Wästberg, a former Swedish consul general to New York and former director general of the Swedish Institute, told The Local newspaper that U.S. officials may also consider Sweden to be “risky” due to an alleged al-Qaeda presence in the country. Wästberg noted that when he and then-Prime Minister Göran Persson visited New York in 2004, they were under heavy guard by security officers. "When I asked the Secret Service agent if they always did this with visiting prime ministers, he responded ,'Only from the risky countries'," he said. "Technically, we are quite secure here, but things do happen.”
The U.S. State Department has the following advisory for Sweden: “Sweden has been subject to terrorist incidents in the recent past, and the potential for a terrorist incident remains. Like other countries in the Schengen area, Sweden's open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups to enter and exit the country with anonymity. You should remain vigilant and exercise caution.”
Indeed, in December 2010 two bombs exploded in central Stockholm, killing the bomber and wounding two other people who were Christmas shopping. The principal suspect in the attack is Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, an Iraqi-born Swedish citizen. But Sweden has a very low crime rate overall.
Obama is visiting Sweden only after canceling plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, partially due to the Edward Snowden affair (Putin gave Snowden, a fugitive intelligence analyst from the U.S., temporary asylum). "We have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia summit in early September," the White House said a statement last week, adding that Moscow's "disappointing decision" on Snowden was "also a factor."