HELSINKI – Swedes have been scratching their heads and ridiculing President Donald Trump’s remarks that suggested a major incident had happened in the Scandinavian country. The American president now says he was referring to something he saw on television.
During a rally in Florida on Saturday, Trump said “look what’s happening last night in Sweden” as he alluded to past terror attacks in Europe. It wasn’t clear what he was referring to and there were no high-profile situations reported in Sweden on Friday night.
The comment prompted a barrage of social media reaction on Sunday, with hundreds of tweets, and a local newspaper published a list of events that happened on Friday that appeared to have no connections to any terror-like activity.
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to explain: “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on (at)FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.” A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says that Trump was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.
The president may be referring to a segment aired Friday night on the Fox News Channel show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that reported Sweden had accepted more than 160,000 asylum-seekers last year but that only 500 of the migrants had found jobs in Sweden. The report, which was illustrated with video of broken windows and fires, went on to say that a surge in gun violence and rape had followed the influx of immigrants.
Reacting to Trump’s original remarks, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson said that the government wasn’t aware of any “terror-linked major incidents.” Sweden’s Security Police said it had no reason to change the terror threat level.
“Nothing has occurred which would cause us to raise that level,” agency spokesman Karl Melin said.
Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”
Addressing Trump in an article on Sunday, the Aftonbladet tabloid wrote, “This happened in Sweden Friday night, Mr President,” and then listed in English some events that included a man being treated for severe burns, an avalanche warning and police chasing a drunken driver.
One Twitter user said, “After the terrible events #lastnightinSweden, IKEA have sold out of this” and posted a mock Ikea instruction manual on how to build a “Border Wall.”
Sweden, which has a long reputation for welcoming refugees and migrants, had a record 163,000 asylum applications in 2015. The country has since cut back on the number it annually accepts.
Its most recent attack linked to extremism happened in the capital, Stockholm, in December 2010. An Iraqi-born Swede detonated two explosive devices, including one that killed him but no one else.
In the month he has been president, Trump’s remarks and those of his staff have fueled numerous news media “fact checks” pointing out inaccuracies and falsehoods. On the subject of terrorism, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway referred to a “Bowling Green Massacre” that never occurred.
Former foreign minister Bildt told Swedish Radio after his initial confounded tweet Sunday that he sees danger in how Trump relates to facts.
“If we are in a situation where there is tension in the world, we stand between war and peace,” he said. “If we then have a president who spreads lots of false rumors, it can be truly dangerous.”
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