Through Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister and By Nyberg
He was the father of two young children and led an ordinary life in a drab English town. Most of his family, originally from Iraq, had settled peacefully in Sweden. But unbeknownst to one of them, Taimour Abdulwahab had embraced jihad – and was plans to blow himself up among Christmas shoppers in the Swedish capital.
Abdulwahab’s last steps and contacts offer further evidence that the terrorist “the lone wolf” is very difficult to identify. But they also show that – even with training – the lone suicide bomber faces serious challenges in carrying out an attack.
Abdulwahab flew to Sweden from Luton, England on November 19 last year – on the final leg of a journey to his own death. He went to live with his family in Tranas, a quiet town known for its golfing and fishing, set among rolling hills about 160 km from Stockholm. He spent the following days with his sister and parents in the family apartment.
But somewhere nearby, he was building a powerful but rudimentary bomb, using ingredients he had been able to buy in town: pressure cookers, fireworks, explosive chemicals, nails and ball bearings. According to British investigators, he had already purchased pollen presses and herb crushers from Luton that could be used in bombs.
Abdulwahab, it seems, worked alone – but he was not an amateur. Like other avowed terrorists in the United States and Western Europe, he had received training in bomb-making – not in Pakistan, like many others, but in Iraq. According to sources in Sweden, at least two other people may have known about his plans if they weren’t actively involved in the plot.
Swedish prosecutors told CNN that after nearly three weeks in Tranas, Abdulwahab walked out of the family apartment on a sunny Saturday morning. It was December 11, 2010.
“When he left his apartment he was not carrying anything – no suitcase or bag. His parents thought he would come back later in the afternoon,” said Agnetha Hilding Qvanstrom, senior official at the Swedish prosecutor’s office. for national security.
Qvanstrom said CNN investigators interviewed 800 people, searched several premises and recovered CCTV footage while tracing Abdulwahab’s movements. But they could not count 40 minutes on this fateful Saturday.
“We don’t know where he went during this time,” Qvanstrom said. Investigators believe he may have gone to retrieve his partially built devices, but have yet to locate where they were hidden.
Shortly after noon, Abdulwahab left Tranas in a white Audi he had bought after arriving in Sweden. For a man of modest means, he did not seem short of money. The vehicle’s GPS system helped Swedish investigators trace its route, which included a stop at a gas station. CCTV footage showed that by the time he left his car and went to the bathroom, he already had a bomb attached to him.
“For a thin guy he suddenly had a hell of a stomach – it looks like a bomb on his stomach. Maybe it was fixing something in the men’s bathroom,” Qvanstrom told CNN.
A few hours later, Abdulwahab parked on Olof Palme Street – in an area of Stockholm full of shops and apartments. Sitting in his car, Abdulwahab sent several emails in English: to a Swedish news agency, to Swedish security services, to his wife back in Luton and to his mother in Tranas, according to Qvanstrom.
“He said it was because of Lars Vilks and the Swedish presence in Afghanistan,” Qvanstrom told CNN. Vilks, a Swedish citizen, was one of the cartoonists who drew a controversial depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. The publication of the cartoons sparked outrage in the Muslim world, with riots in Pakistan and Libya. And they have been cited by many activists as leading them to violence.
At 4:50 p.m. Stockholm police started receiving calls about a burning car in central Stockholm. Qvanstrom told CNN: “Our theory is that he set the car on fire to attract people nearby.”
Then he planned to use a walkie-talkie to trigger a device inside the car. As people fled from the scene, “they were running towards the bomber, which then set off the explosive devices he was carrying on his body,” Qvarnström said.
Forensic examination of the car showed that it was set on fire using several gasoline cans, gasoline bottles and fireworks. An explosive device was also placed in the passenger seat, made from a pressure cooker and similar to the two explosive devices the bomber carried on its body. A second walkie-talkie was also found in the car.
But the explosives in the car did not explode. CCTV video showed that on a nearby street, Abdulwahab was trying to blow himself up. For ten minutes, he roamed the area, trying to activate the device attached to his stomach.
Just before 5 p.m., part of the bomb finally exploded, killing Abdulwahab instantly. But the rest of the device did not explode, potentially saving many lives.
Swedish investigators said the bomb in his backpack was substantial – “a pressure cooker filled with 4 to 5 kilograms of explosive substances, as well as six aluminum bottles which together held about 5 to 6 kg of explosive substances.
“On his forehead he carried another pressure cooker filled with 4 to 5 kilos of explosives, and 9 so-called pollen presses, weighing about 2 kilos. In total, the pollen presses contained just under 500 grams of explosives. “
Swedish counterterrorism source told CNN the pressure cookers were each filled with ammonium nitrate, an explosive chosen by al-Qaeda in plots in the West and by far-right extremist Anders Breivik who admitted to carrying out an attack terrorist in Norway in July.
“The explosive devices, if they exploded, were powerful enough not only to injure people and property, but also to kill people,” said Anders Danielsson, head of the Swedish security service.
Magnus Ranstorp, research director at the Swedish National Defense College and a leading counterterrorism expert, told CNN that while the devices were made from simple ingredients and simply constructed, they were anything but hobbyists.
“I understand there was a level of sophistication in the detonation mechanisms and the wiring,” Ranstorp told CNN.
Swedish authorities continue to investigate whether Abdulwahab was linked to terrorists abroad or received assistance in carrying out the attack.
“We don’t know if he got help in Sweden. What we do know is that we really think he was alone that day in Stockholm, but we don’t know if anyone tried to help her before buying ingredients for bombs, “Qvanstrom told CNN.
But Abdulwahab was in contact with someone in Iraq on the day of the failed attack. According to British investigators, Abdulwahab made and received a phone call to a cell phone number in Iraq. They say he traveled to Syria and Iraq in 2009 to receive training. The head of the Iraqi counterterrorism unit, General Dhai Kanani, revealed last January that a detained Al Qaeda suspect confirmed that Abdulwahab received three months of bomb-making training in Mosul, a stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq, successor of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Mesopotamia. And the first photograph of Abdulwahab after his death was posted on a jihadist website, showing a thin, smiling young man with what could be the hills of northern Iraq behind him.
“The sophistication of the wiring seems to strongly suggest that he was not a self-taught or a lone wolf, even though he led the attack on his own,” Ranstorp told CNN.
He pointed out that Abdulwahab had tried to radicalize other people in Luton in the years leading up to the attack.
Ranstorp says there are still gaps in Abdulwahab’s story. Given his lack of employment, it is still unclear how he found the resources for his suicide mission. And investigations continue into possible accomplices, or others who may at least have been aware of his intentions. Another man, Nasserdine Menni, who lived in Glasgow, faces charges that he provided money to Abdulwahab and that they conspired together “and with others to promote terrorist objectives by criminal and other means”. Menni’s next court appearance will be in January.