These days anybody can be an armchair expert on terrorism so here are, for what they are worth, my first impressions about the bombings in Stockholm yesterday:
1. Generally, the motive behind suicide attacks has been a grudge against a real or perceived military intervention or occupation of the home country. The point to remember is that suicide bombings are not particularly Muslim or Islamist in nature: The Tamil Tigers made great use of the tactic during the Sri Lankan civil war.
2. That said, we do need some kind of religious factor to explain why a Swedish-Iraqi would mount a suicide attack in Sweden. Afghanistan is the best link here. This also means that intelligence services in all countries which participate in military missions in Afghanistan are or should be looking out for individuals or groups planning similar attacks. Sweden may have been a high-odds country for an attack, but there would still be odds on an attack happening in Sweden.
3. Little is (officially) known about the man, except that he was an Iraqi refugee who came to Sweden in the early 1990s. We do not (yet) know how or where his radicalisation took place or if the attack was an individual action or planned in cooperation with an extremist Islamist group or network in Sweden or elsewhere.
4. Guessing from the reports it looks like that the plan of the bomber was to mount a double attack by blowing up his car and himself either at the same time or with a slight delay. Something (fortunately) appears to have gone completely wrong in the process so the bomber became the only victim. It could be either technical incompetence or the simple fact that he couldn’t go through with his original plan – somewhere I’ve seen research which shows that there are substantial mental blocks which have to be overcome before an individual is able to carry out an attack against other people (including suicide attacks).
5. We should consider a similar type of attack possible in Denmark. But you are still much much more likely to get killed by a lorry in the traffic than by an Islamist suicide bomber.
6. Warning against specific attacks is extremely difficult because of the risk of false positives. Too many warnings will lead to complacency among the public.
7. Generally, nurturing a culture of victimhood is not very constructive. This applies in general as well as to Islamists even if (or especially because) modern Islamism in many ways is built on the premise that the Muslim world is the victim of Western aggression.
8. Despite claims to the opposite, terrorists do not “only have to be lucky once” in order to win. It is true that they have to be lucky in the sense that a number of obstacles have to be overcome and that many attempted attacks are abandoned or thwarted, but the dream of the Big Attack Which Brings Down the Evil Opponent Forever is a chimera because it does not understand the difference between general and specific support for any social or political order. In practice, extremist thinking has been found to be defective in this sense at least since the late 19th century.
Update 2010-12-15: Scandinavian-readers might want to read this post by Andreas Johansson Heinö on the Stockholm bomber and the political implications.