If a terrorist were to attack Stockholm, the popular pedestrian thoroughfare of Drottningattan would be an appealing target. Flanked with shops, restaurants, and bars, the street is typically packed with people, especially on weekends. Indeed, moments after a hijacked beer truck barreled into a branch of Åhlens, a popular department store chain, this afternoon, early footage of panicked crowds fleeing the area suggests that before the driver began his deadly rampage the street was as bustling (and as vulnerable) as usual.
At least three people were killed and eight others were injured in what police and government officials are calling a terrorist attack.
“Sweden has been attacked. Everything points to the fact that this is a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a group of reporters shortly after the incident during a visit in western Sweden.
The city immediately went into lockdown, closing the metro system, evacuating the central train station, and stationing armed guards around the downtown area. Shaken pedestrians sheltered inside nearby bars, and unconfirmed reports of a shooter loose in the area filled social media feeds.
“It is surreal,” Stockholm resident Joakim Becklen told The Daily Beast from Barreto bar, where he and others were sheltering just a few blocks away from where the attack occurred. “There are choppers flying around. I have never seen the center of a major city like this before.”
Footage of the scene depicts black smoke billowing from the building the truck careened into, while the shrieks of emergency sirens can be heard in the background.
Christoffer Ung was shopping in the Åhlens department store when the hijacked truck plowed through the wall.
“I was on my way to the exit and just saw the wall coming towards us like an avalanche,” he told the TT news agency, as quoted by The Local.
The Swedish news site Expressen has released photos of a person police believe may be linked to the attack and who remains at large. The grainy images depict a man in a dark hooded sweatshirt and a green jacket, but it is difficult to make out his features.
The attack is not the first time Drottninggatan has been targeted. In December 2010, an apparent suicide bomber blew himself up there, injuring two and causing panic among the throngs of Christmas shoppers. In that instance, a Swedish news agency said that it had received messages about 10 minutes before the blasts in Arabic and Swedish protesting the country’s presence in Afghanistan.
The killer's motives in this latest rampage are not yet known. And as police continue to hunt for the suspect, shaken Swedes are trying to come to grips with the sort of attack that has become an unsettling refrain across Europe in recent months.
“I was close, very close.” Becklen said. “It could have been me.”