Image: Stockholm explosion scene
Fredrik Persson / SCANPIX  /  AP
Police forensics expert at the scene of an explosion in Stockholm on Saturday. Two explosions in central Stockholm killed one person and injured two, causing panic among Christmas shoppers. Police spokeswoman Petra Sjolander said a car exploded near Drottninggatan, a busy shopping street in the center of the city.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/12/2010 5:56:17 AM ET 2010-12-12T10:56:17

Swedish police said Sunday that two explosions in central Stockholm were an act of terrorism by what appeared to be a suicide bomber, who killed himself and injured two people.

Police would not comment on a motive for the Saturday attack on a busy street, but a Swedish news agency has reported receiving an email just before the blast referring to a case of a cartoon of Muhammad that outraged the Muslim world and to the country's soldiers in Afghanistan.

The terror threat alert in the Nordic country is not being raised, although police are investigating the attacks as "a crime of terror," spokesman Anders Thornberg told reporters.

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"When we go through the existing criteria and the series of events that occurred it fits well within the description of a terror crime," Thornberg said. He declined to elaborate.

Thornberg said police would not discuss his identity, as some family members had not yet been informed.

He also did not confirm local media reports that the man who died had explosives strapped to his body.

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Also on Sunday, the imam of Stockholm's Sodermalm mosque issued a statement deploring "all forms of attacks, violence, fears and threats against innocent people, whatever the motive or pretext," Sweden's English-language publication The Local reported.

The drama began when a car burst into flames near a busy shopping street in the city center, followed by explosions inside the car which police said were caused by gas canisters. Police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said it was not clear what had started the fire that made gas canisters in the car explode.

The second explosion, about 300 yards away and 15 minutes later, killed one man and wounded two people.

'Could have been truly catastrophic'
"Most worrying attempt at terrorist attack in crowded part of central Stockholm. Failed - but could have been truly catastrophic," Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a message on Twitter, which was also shown on his blog.

Police vans cordoned off several streets around the body and towed away the car. The rest of the city center was calm, with people having a normal Saturday night out.

Several hours after the blast, the man's body was still lying on the pavement, covered with a white sheet.

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Sweden — which has so far been spared any large terrorist attacks — raised its terror threat alert level from low to elevated in October because of "a shift in activities" among Swedish-based groups that could be plotting attacks there.

The security police said then that the terrorism threat in Sweden remained low compared to that in other European countries.

Swedish newspapers all said the dead man in Saturday's attack had blown himself up. Dagens Nyheter quoted a man called Pascal, a trained medic, as saying "It looked as if the man had been carrying something that exploded in his stomach."

"He had no injuries to the face or body in general and the shops around were not damaged."

The Aftonbladet newspaper quoted a source as saying the man was carrying six pipe bombs, of which only one exploded, and a backpack full of nails and suspected explosive material.

'The whole house shook'
The paper quoted eyewitnesses as saying the man was shouting in what was apparently Arabic.

"The whole house shook. We were scared to death and went outside, where we saw a dead person on the street," a neighborhood resident named Tarja told the newspaper, according to a translation by The Local. "There were paramedics and police there but they weren't doing anything," she said.

TT said the email it received was also sent to the Security Police and had sound files in Swedish and Arabic.

"Our actions will speak for themselves, as long as you do not end your war against Islam and humiliation of the Prophet and your stupid support for the pig Vilks," TT quoted a man as saying in one recording.

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TT said the threat was linked to Sweden's contribution to the U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan, where it has 500 soldiers, mainly in the north.

It also referred to caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who depicted the Prophet with the body of a dog in a cartoon in 2007.

Most Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam offensive.

In March, an American who called herself "JihadJane" was charged with plotting to kill Vilks. In May, arsonists tried to set fire to his house.

'An act against the Swedish people'
Vilks, contacted by Reuters Television, said he was safe.

"This is the first casualty of my project," he said. "It was an act against the Swedish people to scare them and not me. The good news was that a terrorist died and not someone else."

Evan Kohlmann, a U.S. terrorism consultant, told Reuters that a small militant Islamic community had been based in Sweden for some time. But he thought the incident on Saturday, if an attack, was one man's work.

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"... given the scale of this attack and the target, I suspect this is a homegrown local extremist who may or may not have connections to any actual terrorist organization," Kohlmann said. "We've seen a flurry of attempted attacks across northern Europe by similar lone wolf militants who were, in one way or another, enraged by the cartoon controversy."

In January, a Somali man was indicted for terrorism and attempted murder for breaking into the home of the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and threatening him with an axe.

A cartoon by Westergaard in 2005 that depicted the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb caused outrage across the Muslim world, leading to riots in the Middle East, Africa and Asia in which at least 50 people were killed.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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