Stockholm Attack Suspect Will Plead Guilty, His Lawyer Says
STOCKHOLM — A 39-year-old Uzbek man who has been held after Sweden’s worst terrorist attack in decades intends to plead guilty, his lawyer said in court on Tuesday.
Appearing in public for the first time since his capture, the suspect, Rakhmat Akilov, entered Sweden’s largest secured courtroom, a subterranean space at Stockholm District Court. It was only three-quarters of a mile from Drottninggatan, the pedestrianized street where Mr. Akilov steered a stolen beer truck into a crowd shortly before 3 p.m. Friday, killing four people and injuring 15 others. He was arrested about five hours later, in a suburb north of Stockholm.
Accompanied by a lawyer and a Russian-language interpreter, Mr. Akilov was led into court by two police officers who gripped a black belt secured around his waist. Mr. Akilov, who is of medium build and has thick salt-and-pepper hair, was hunched over.
He had a green fleece jacket wrapped around his head, preventing the dozens of journalists on hand from seeing his face, but the judge ordered him to remove it. (He was not handcuffed.) Underneath, he was wearing a pajama-like uniform.
Mr. Akilov’s court-appointed defense lawyer, Johan Eriksson, said the defendant “admits to having committed the terrorist crime,” and did not oppose his continued detention.
The prosecutor, Hans Ihrman, then asked the judge to close the proceedings to the public, and Mr. Eriksson agreed.
After reporters were let back in, the judge, Malou Lindblom, announced that she had ordered Mr. Akilov held until May 11, citing the risk that he might disappear, damage evidence or “continue with criminal activity.” He is being held on suspicion of terrorist murder.
Mr. Akilov had asked that a Sunni Muslim lawyer be appointed for him, instead of Mr. Eriksson, arguing that “only a lawyer of this faith could assert his interests in the best way,” but that request was denied.
Mr. Eriksson has a reputation in the legal profession as a talented litigator who excels at finding technical flaws in police work and who does not shy away from controversial cases. He told reporters at the courthouse that he was prohibited from sharing details from the closed-door hearing. But he said of the defendant, “Our relationship is good.”
“He’s pleading guilty,” Mr. Eriksson said. “I’m not allowed to tell anything he said in the court today.”
The court had ordered an initial screening to determine whether Mr. Akilov “needs to undergo a more in-depth mental health assessment,” Mr. Eriksson added.
Mr. Eriksson said it was important “to uphold democratic principles and that he gets the same defense as anyone else.”
Mr. Akilov, a construction worker, had sought asylum in Sweden, but his application was rejected. Ordered in December to leave the country, he went underground — one of an estimated 12,000 rejected asylum seekers who are on the run in the country.
A nation of 10 million, Sweden took in 244,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015, more per capita than any other country in Europe.
Sweden mourned the victims of the attacks with a minute of silence on Monday. The dead included two Swedes, a 69-year-old woman named Lena Wahlberg and an 11-year-old girl who has not been identified; a British man, Crispin Bevington, who worked in Stockholm for the music streaming service Spotify; and a Belgian woman, Mailys Dereymaeker, who had been visiting friends.
Eight others remained hospitalized on Tuesday, two in critical condition.
The truck attack resembled assaults using vehicles in Nice, France, in July; in Berlin in December; and in London last month. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for those three.
Swedish investigators have interviewed 600 people in connection with the assault, and had also held another man besides Mr. Akilov, but that man was released on Tuesday.
“According to the prosecutor, the suspicions have weakened, and there is, therefore, no ground to apply for a detention order,” the Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement.