Recent small-scale protests in Sweden's capital that saw a man desecrate Islam's holy book, the Quran, and the prospect of more such demonstrations, have left the Nordic nation torn between upholding its longstanding tradition of freedom of expression and safeguarding residents from potential retaliation from those offended by the acts.
The demonstrations have, and with officials in Iran calling for reprisals, the Swedish government moved this week to enhance its counterterrorism capabilities, instructing 15 government agencies, including its armed forces and various law enforcement bodies, to bolster security measures.
Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said the measures would enable Sweden to "deter and impede terrorism and violent extremism."
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he was "deeply concerned" as more requests were being submitted to the country's police for permission to hold anti-Muslim protests involving the desecration of Qurans.
"If they are granted, we are going to face some days where there is a clear risk of something serious happening. I am extremely worried about what it could lead to," Kristersson told Swedish news agency TT on Thursday.
He warned that the Swedish Security Service had determined that while the country had long been considered a "legitimate" target for terror attacks by various militant groups and lone actors inspired by them, it was now deemed to be a "prioritized" target.
Animosity toward Sweden in many Muslim nations soared in June, when a Christian Iraqi refugee burned a copy of the Quran outside Stockholm's Grand Mosque on the day of Eid-ul-Adha, the most important festival on the Muslim calendar.
Two weeks later the same man, Salwan Momika, 37, who sought asylum in Sweden a few years ago, staged another protest where he stomped on a Quran and used the Iraqi flag to wipe his shoes outside the Iraqi embassy in the Swedish capital.
For the second time his actions drew scores of angry Iraqi protesters to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, with the crowd managing to breach the compound's perimeter and.
Iraq's government cut its diplomatic ties with Stockholm, and many other Muslim nations have summoned Swedish ambassadors in their capitals to formally lodge protests over the demonstrations in Stockholm being permitted.
Iran has taken an even stronger stance, threatening a harsh punishment against the Quran desecrator. Ali Mohammadi-Sirat, the Supreme Leader's man in the IRGC's Quds Force — a special military unit responsible for operations outside Iran's borders — said the man who disrespected the Quran should fear for his life.
According to the exiled dissident news network Iran International, which now bases its operations in Washington, D.C., Mohammadi-Sirat called on Swedish authorities to hand over Momika, stressing that those who insult the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran should face execution.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei echoed the warning, demanding that Sweden hand over the Iraqi refugee.
"The insult to the #HolyQuran in #Sweden is a bitter, conspiratorial, dangerous event," Khamenei said in a social media post. "It is the opinion of all Islamic scholars that those who have insulted the Holy Quran deserve the severest punishment."
Iran International quoted Major Gen. Hossein Salami, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, as saying that Iran "will not allow those who insult the Quran to have security."
"If someone wants to play with our Quran and religion, we will play with all his world," the opposition outlet quoted Salami as saying. "Sooner or later, the vengeful hand of the 'mujahids' will reach politicians and stage managers behind these sort of crimes, and we will render the highest punishment to the perpetrator."
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