Second arson attack on Swedish mosque in a week

Image of the first Swedish mosque that was torched on Christmas Day

Special security forces in Sweden are hunting suspected arsonists after fires at two mosques.

The blazes follow a period of increased tension in the country, as politicians struggle to stem the rise of the anti-immigrant far right.

The Säpo were called in after a blaze at a mosque in the southern town of Eslöv in the early hours of Monday morning. It followed a similar incident on Christmas Day in Eskilstuna, near Stockholm, in which five people were injured when a fire broke out during prayers.

“It’s probably Islamophobia,” an Eslöv imam, Samir Muric, told Swedish media. “I live close and do not feel safe anymore.”

Elvir Gigovic, chair of the Muslim Council of Sweden, said there had been a spate of “systematic” attacks on Muslims this year, many of which were marked by their violence and severity.

The justice minister, Morgan Johansson, described the Eskilstuna fire as a “heinous atrocity” and said it was difficult to believe the incident was anything other than violence directed against Muslims.

Heightened concern about attacks on Muslims comes after Saturday’s decision by Sweden’s leftwing coalition government to call off elections due in March after a last-minute compromise with centre-right parties. The deal enables both blocs to avoid potential humiliation at the polls by the far-right Sweden Democrats, which forced the crisis after blocking the government’s budget in parliament, where it holds the balance of power.

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Sweden Democrats leaders have likened Islamism to Nazism, and the party wants to cut the number of asylum seekers by 90%. This month, the leader of Sweden’s Jewish community condemned as “good old rightwing antisemitism” remarks by the party’s secretary that Jews could not be Swedes unless they abandoned their religious identity.

The Sweden Democrats more than doubled their vote to 13% in September to become the country’s third-largest party; opinion polls suggest this month’s budget crisis further boosted support for the party to up to 18%.

Surveys suggest a substantial majority of Swedes back this weekend’s compromise between the main left and right parties, seen as a welcome return to the country’s tradition of cross-party cooperation after a period of political turmoil. However, Sweden’s main business newspaper said cancelling the elections was “playing with fire” and “an insult to voters”.

The Sweden Democrats said the deal confirmed it was the only genuine opposition force. The party has been shunned by mainstream politicians for its focus on immigration, but its pariah status has turned it into a martyr in the eyes of many supporters.

There have been at least 13 suspected arson attacks on mosques in Sweden this year, according to Expo, an anti-racism magazine.

A members-only Facebook page claiming to be a Sweden Democrats discussion forum posted comments praising the mosque fires, equality campaigners said.

“What is happening now is an escalation due to the political success of parliamentary racism,” said Henrik Arnstad, a Stockholm-based author of research on fascism.

The Sweden Democrats did not respond to an invitation to comment.

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