“How we are protecting Sweden from violent extremism and terrorism”

Published

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Minister for Energy, Business and Industry Ebba Busch, Minister for Employment and Integration Johan Pehrson and Minister for Justice Gunnar Strömmer, opinion piece, Dagens industri, 8 January 2024.

Sweden’s security situation has been deteriorating over time. Drottninggatan in 2017, Almedalen in 2022 and Brussels in 2023 are all tragedies that have affected Swedish citizens in recent years. 

Our society is characterised by openness, good values, democracy and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms. People must be able to move freely in a safe and secure manner, participate in gatherings and express their opinions without fear of being subjected to threats or violence.

Today, we face three main parallel threats: terrorism and violent extremism, the hostile actions of various state actors against Sweden, and organised crime. 

In August 2023, the Swedish Security Service raised the terrorist threat level from level 3 (‘elevated’) to level 4 (‘high’) on a five point scale. This was decided based on the deteriorating security situation and the assessment that the threat will persist for some time. 

A decision to raise the terrorist threat level is primarily a signal to government agencies and other central actors to take measures that enable citizens to live their lives and exercise their freedoms and rights as usual, even under the prevailing circumstances. We all have reason to maintain heightened vigilance and remain critical of sources of information. 

The threat of terrorism has varied over time as regards both actors and intensity. However, it has been constantly present in Sweden and our neighbourhood for the past decade. Many other countries have lived with high terrorist threat levels for a long time while society as a whole has carried on as usual. We must also be prepared to manage this while at the same time continuing to fight the terror threat with unabated intensity. 

Efforts to protect society from violent extremism and terrorism must therefore be persistent, lasting and strategic. Incorporating aims and strategic objectives into a national strategy has been a success factor in this work. 

The first national strategy against terrorism was adopted in 2008 and followed by a new strategy in 2012. It was then updated again in 2015. Since that time, however, the threat from violent extremism and terrorism has become all the more complex and difficult to counter. There is now a broader threat to Sweden aimed at undermining trust in society and its institutions, and – by extension – weakening our democracy. 

We must adapt our approach in light of new challenges and experiences. The Government has therefore drafted a new comprehensive national strategy against violent extremism and terrorism.

This work will be based on four clear strategic focus areas: prevent violent extremism and terrorism; avert terrorist attacks and other ideologically motivated crime; protect society and its vital functions; and manage the situation during and after an attack.

The strategy contains several important updates aimed at strengthening Sweden’s resilience to threats against our freedom and security.

A comprehensive strategy against violent extremism and terrorism now replaces what were previously two different national strategies: one against terrorism and one against violent extremism. By merging them into one strategy, actors at national, regional and local level will be better equipped to meet the broad threat scenario that is our current reality.

Measures dedicated to preventing extremism and terrorism will be integrated into broader crime prevention efforts. Comprehensive local crime prevention work is currently being carried out, particularly in municipalities, which have had a statutory responsibility to do so since mid-2023. By integrating preventive efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorism into the broader, local crime prevention work, preventive measures become a clearer focus.

Society must be prepared to manage an attack. When earlier strategies were adopted, Sweden had not yet experienced a terrorist attack resulting in numerous deaths and injuries. 

Since then, there have been several fatal attacks. Although various measures are primarily aimed at preventing attacks, society must also be prepared to manage a situation in which an attack nevertheless occurs. This includes being able to intervene and stop an ongoing attack, but also giving victims of crime the right support and the possibility of redress. 

Several concrete measures must be taken and followed up in each strategic area. Prevent includes stronger cooperation between the schools, social services and the police, and additional focus on early interventions to stop radicalisation and recruitment of children to extremist environments. Avert means enhancing the work to stop financing of terrorism, cutting off access to weapons and improving the ability to identify individuals who constitute a threat. Protect entails a stronger focus on safeguarding critical infrastructure and improving the conditions for camera surveillance in public spaces where necessary. Manage means implementing joint tactical training of staff from the rescue services, police, and health and medical care.

Our aim with this strategy is to mobilise the strength of our whole society – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally – to effectively combat terrorism and violent extremism and to turn that strength against the threats we now face.

To achieve this, municipalities, government agencies, researchers and civil society have contributed to the work to draft the strategy. This has taken place through meetings, and central government agencies have had the opportunity to present their views throughout the process. 

The strategy will not be a paper tige. The Government has therefore tasked four government agencies with incorporating the strategy into their activities and collaborating with each other and central actors within the four areas identified in the strategy, including within the framework of the Counterterrorism Cooperative Council.

The only way we can prevail over the actors who seek to weaken our democratic foundation and good values, and undermine trust in society and its institutions, is by working together. This is how we can safeguard the safety and security of individuals and families, and defend our free and open society.

Ulf Kristersson
Prime Minister

Ebba Busch
Minister for Energy, Business and Industry 

Johan Pehrson
Minister for Employment and Integration 

Gunnar Strömmer
Minister for Justice