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Gabriel Helupka, Jennifer Radlinsky, Martina Sclaverano, Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Pike Wipperfurth

Cameron Munoz, Senior Editor

July 18, 2023

Stockholm Mosque[1]

Geographical Area | Northern Europe

Countries Affected | Sweden

A Quran burning outside a Stockholm, Sweden mosque on Eid al-Adha increased social and political hostilities in the country.[2] Requests to burn the other holy books like the Torah and the Bible have been submitted to Stockholm police, illustrating the rising tension in Sweden between its free speech values and the rights of religious minorities.[3] Sweden's stalled NATO membership bid faced fluctuations in the Turkish government, which ultimately shifted to supporting Sweden's entrance in early July[4]; both the government and opposition parties have recently criticized Sweden for the Quran burnings.[5] Geographical location and military equipment make Sweden a valuable addition to NATO, yet opposing views on religious freedoms threaten to derail the process.[6] Tension between religious groups will very likely increase and create national security concerns when book-burning requests are approved for free speech reasons. Sweden’s admittance into NATO will almost certainly be slowed in Turkish parliament, as politicians will very likely continually object to the application based on recent public displays of anti-Muslim sentiments. Terrorist groups will likely exploit the political and social instability to commit attacks during approved gatherings, likely negatively affecting participation because of safety concerns.

Security Risk Level:

Areas of High Security Concern: Sweden is almost certainly seeing a rise in Islamophobia, highlighted by multiple attempts at burning sacred texts of religious minorities. Ethnic and religious minorities will very likely become suspicious of each other as they feel threatened and unwelcome, particularly in vulnerable areas with high social exclusion and segregation levels. There is a roughly even chance that ethnic-based violence will increase between Christian and Muslim citizens, but also between minorities themselves. Social tensions will likely affect the political environment, creating demands for anti-immigration policies and approving discriminatory behavior such as book burning. Islamic terrorist groups are likely to issue long-term threats of violence against minority groups, very likely exploiting the situation to fuel anti-minority sentiments. They will likely attempt to marginalize minority religions and gain support for implementing Sharia law through Quranic unity.

Current Claims: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson; Swedish Minister of Justice Gunnar Strömmer; Sweden; Swedish government; Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Psychological Defense Agency; ruling political parties the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats, the Liberals; supporting party to the government the Sweden Democrats; Swedish Police Authority; Swedish Security Police (SÄPO); Swedish citizens; Turkey; NATO; United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC); The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC); Terrorist organization ISIS; Sunni Muslim terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); Iran; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Morocco; Kuwait; Jordan; The United Arab Emirates; Pakistan; Afghanistan; Kuwait; Yemen

Current Conflicts: Swedish embassies, embassy staff, and Swedish citizens abroad will very likely face increased security concerns for retaliatory attacks or hostile confrontation for the Quran burning. The risk for violent attacks will almost certainly be highest in Islamic countries in the Middle East and Africa. Non-Islamic religious communities and institutions will likely face similar security concerns, with a roughly even chance of retaliations involving the burning of religious texts and facilities. Members of the Islamic community living in Sweden and other European countries will almost certainly face increased hostility and discrimination against them, likely resulting in more attacks targeting individuals or institutions with connections to the Islamic faith.

Major Capital Industries: religious organizations/clergy; religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations; human rights; civil servants/public officials; emergency management services; media; internet; education;

Potential Industry Concerns: There is a roughly even chance that increases in book desecrations will discourage publishing companies from printing religious books, as public burnings will likely cause reputational damage. Law enforcement will very likely need to enhance security measures for book burning demonstrations, prioritize social media for threats against participants, and fortify physical locations to safeguard public safety. Emergency management services will almost certainly have to enact mass casualty protocols in conjunction with local health facilities to respond to any attacks that occur. Religious institutions will very likely seek the assistance of law enforcement and experts to create strategies to secure their facilities, likely fearing credible targeted violence against their communities.

Areas of Caution:

  • Geopolitical: The Quran burning drew widespread condemnation across the Islamic world, with countries like Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia expressing concerns. These countries criticized Sweden for permitting such actions, reflecting the Quran’s deep-rooted religious sensitivities and reverence within Muslim-majority nations.[7] In response, Iran refrained from appointing a new Swedish ambassador, while Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors in protest.[8] Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif designated July 7 as "Yaum-i-Taqaddus Quran," urging nationwide protests to uphold the Quran's sanctity.[9] Iraq and Turkey criticized Sweden for allowing an "extremist" to burn the Quran and permitting "anti-Islamic protests in the name of freedom of expression" respectively.[10] The Afghan Taliban banned all Swedish activities within the country, demanding an apology from Sweden to all Muslims for the "heinous act."[11] Kuwait announced it would print and distribute 100,000 translated copies of the Quran to “educate the Swedish people on Islamic values and existence.”[12] The Quran’s desecration prompted discussions at international platforms like the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)[13] and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).[14] Despite objections from the United States and the EU, the UNHRC approved a Pakistan-led resolution on religious hatred in a 28-12 vote.[15] The resolution condemns acts of desecration and advocates for stronger measures against religious hatred due to a rise in hostility, violence, and discrimination.[16] In an unconventional meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the OIC, comprising 48 Muslim-majority member states, emphasized the global need to safeguard the Quran from desecration.[17]

  • Political: Swedish Prime Minister Kristersson condemned the Quran burnings in Sweden and said that “just because it is legal does not mean it is appropriate,”[18] both in June and earlier this year.[19] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned the act and argued that it is “offensive and disrespectful and a clear provocation.”[20] The Sweden Democrats, which the government depends on for cooperation in the Swedish Parliament according to the Tidö Agreement negotiated after the 2022 election, questioned the government's responses to the Quran burnings.[21] The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson, called it “a betrayal to Islamist forces” and that “The government should unequivocally stand up for our Swedish freedom of expression in every situation,” which shows the different viewpoints within the leading parties.[22] The Chairman of the Justice Committee, Richard Jomshof, who also represents the Sweden Democrats, states that freedom of speech is most important and that the Quran burnings should be allowed to continue.[23] Jomshof has previously called Islam an “abominable religion” and said that the Quran supports violence.[24] The government is currently analyzing the effects of the events, and the Minister of Justice, Gunnar Strömmer, has stated that they are looking over whether the laws need to change to make public Quran burnings illegal.[25]

  • Security Threats: After the frequent Quran burnings, SÄPO has seen increased terror threats against Sweden and Swedish interests abroad. The National Center for Terror Threat Assessment declared that Sweden will likely be seen as a prioritized target for Islamist terrorist organizations during 2023.[26] The terror threat level remains elevated at level three out of five.[27] In April 2023, police arrested five men with connections to ISIS, suspected of conspiracy to execute a terror attack in Sweden.[28] In May 2023, two brothers were arrested in Germany for planning an attack against a Church in Sweden, also with possibly violent Jihadist motives.[29] The increasing threats towards Sweden led to the US embassy in Stockholm issuing a warning to Americans in Sweden, advising them to avoid large crowds and public events.[30] Swedish representatives abroad are similarly subject to increasing threats, particularly in Muslim countries, as was seen on June 29 when demonstrators in Iraq stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.[31] The Quran burnings in Sweden have also led to threats towards Christian minorities in other countries, such as LeJ threatening to turn Pakistan into "a hell for Christianity" and urging their followers to carry out suicide attacks against Christians as retaliation.[32]

  • Economic: The burnings of the Quran have led to renewed calls for boycotts of Swedish products in Muslim countries.[33] Kuwait’s parliament has recommended the country’s Ministry of Trade ban all imports from and export to countries where the Quran has been desecrated.[34] Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken the same action stating that the import from Sweden is small but a “symbolic” act, while also calling other Muslims to follow.[35] Similar calls for boycott occurred in January, when the leading Sunni Muslim University, the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, called for a boycott of Swedish products.[36] Particularly companies such as IKEA, H&M, and Business Sweden, which supports and promotes Swedish exports, have been called out.[37]

  • Social: According to an opinion poll in July, most Swedish citizens want to ban Quran burnings, with 53% in favor, 34% against a ban, and 13% hesitant.[38] Quran burnings in April 2022 by the far-right politician Rasmus Paludan led to violent riots in several cities in Sweden, with both protesters and police injured.[39] These events occurred in areas with a sizeable Muslim population and areas that the Swedish police designate as “vulnerable areas”, areas characterized by high crime rates and social exclusion.[40] Arabic social media accounts contributed to the tensions during the riots,[41] and previous disinformation campaigns have also targeted minority groups in Sweden. This was seen during the LVU (the Care of young persons special provisions act) Campaign that falsely claimed that the Swedish authorities are abusing Muslim children and families.[42] According to a report published by the Swedish Defense University, this campaign spread through the support of Islamist social media accounts and foreign state media.[43] After the recent Quran burning in June 2023, manipulated videos are spreading online with wrongful translations of Kristersson’s speeches and Muslims allegedly being attacked in Sweden.[44] SÄPO and the Psychological Defense Agency believe that foreign adversaries and violent Islamist organizations orchestrate these, pointing out Russia and Iran as states that have done previous disinformation campaigns intended to increase tensions.[45]

  • Emergency Management: After the Quran burnings in January 2023, the police rejected applications to burn a Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, citing “national security concerns” using the Public Order Act.[46] Due to the public demonstrations being a constitutional right, with no laws prohibiting the desecration of religious books, the police’s decision was seen as unconstitutional and unlawful.[47] In June 2023, a court in Stockholm decided that the police did not have the lawful support to prohibit the Quran burnings, arguing that the Public Order Act does not involve concerns for future attacks against Sweden, only security concerns that might affect the demonstration.[48] Despite intelligence about the possibility of riots erupting following the Quran burnings by Rasmus Paludan in 2022, the police did not use adequate resources and sufficient numbers of personnel to stop the riots. This led to a lot of criticism and an investigation into the working environment within the police force.[49] Fourteen demonstrators and over 300 police were injured during the riots,[50] and over 20 police vehicles were destroyed together with other cars and a school that was set ablaze.[51]

Predictive Analysis:

  • Who: The Swedish government and politicians like Kristersson and Strömmer will likely face pressure to settle religious tensions between Christian and Muslim constituents. Swedish political parties will likely mention Islam-related issues in their campaigns, with right-wing parties likely advocating for freedom of speech and left-wing parties favoring Muslim integration. Swedish citizens will likely protest against public book burnings and the general Islamophobic sentiment. Muslim-majority foreign governments with a Muslim majority will likely suspend diplomatic activities with Sweden until the government adopts stricter anti-discrimination policies.

  • What: Protests will likely arise from the Muslim community in Sweden, with a roughly even chance of violent retaliation against political institutions and individuals enabling discrimination. A terrorist attack by an Islamist terrorist group like ISIS is unlikely, but there is a roughly even chance of radicalized lone wolves carrying out a violent attack in Sweden. If the Quran burnings continue, other countries will likely condemn Sweden’s actions and its NATO bid will be stalled. The government will likely encounter difficulties to change the laws due to the conflicting views among leading political parties in the parliament, particularly with the Sweden Democrats likely disapproving of a law change.

  • Why: Islamic terrorist organizations will very likely view Quran desecrations as an encroachment on Allah’s messenger and a disgrace to his honor. They will likely call for violence against minorities and a public jihad campaign against perceived enemies of Islam to rectify an injustice. The Quran burnings will almost certainly be seen as an attack on Islam by Muslims living in Sweden and abroad, very likely resulting in distrust and resentment towards the government and the police from Muslims in Sweden. Muslim-majority countries will very likely feel violated by the events and spread a picture of Sweden as Islamophobic.

  • When: Tensions on Swedish-speaking and Arabic-speaking online platforms will likely escalate over the following weeks as news of the most recent book burning circulates. SÄPO will likely be on alert for the following months to identify potentially violent discourse and prevent any attack. The Swedish parliament will likely engage in frequent debates during the fall regarding freedom of speech and respect for religious minorities. Pressure will very likely increase on the government to change laws to prevent further desecration of religious texts. Future Quran burnings will likely increase the concern of a possible NATO rejection by Turkish politicians when the Turkish parliament reconvenes after a summer break at the beginning of October.

  • How: Terrorist groups like LeJ and ISIS will very likely escalate issuing threatening statements and aim to inspire lone-wolf attacks against minority communities, like Christians. These threats will likely aim to undermine interfaith relationships and further tensions between Muslims and minority communities. Further desecration acts will likely lead terrorist groups to actively seek to influence the Muslim community, likely attempting to rally them in the name of the Quran against minorities they hold responsible for the acts. This will likely lead these terrorist groups to promote the development of stronger anti-Christian sentiments and outrage, likely attempting to marginalize and isolate these communities. Additional desecration of sacred texts will very likely increase diplomatic tensions between Sweden and the Muslim world. This will likely foster an increased international effort among Muslim-majority countries in implementing measures to prevent desecrations and preserve religious tolerance. Rising pressure from Muslim-majority countries will likely create tensions with Western countries over how to address the issue from a human rights and free speech standpoint.

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends SÄPO and the Swedish Police Authority increase monitoring of potential threats against Sweden, both from violent Islamist extremist groups and state actors, and expand intelligence sharing with other countries. The police should also monitor potential threats of large-scale riots and demonstrations against the destruction of religious books in Sweden and implement sufficient resources and methods to counter potential violence from demonstrators. To prevent distrust and further social exclusion among vulnerable communities with large Muslim populations in Sweden, CTG recommends that law enforcement engage in community-building programs and social engagement in these areas. CTG advises the Psychological Defense Agency to monitor and track possible disinformation campaigns against Sweden and work together with other government agencies to counter disinformation through media campaigns in languages other than Swedish, particularly in Arabic, Somali, Turkish, and Kurdish. We recommend all political parties in Sweden refrain from potentially disrespectful rhetoric and instead engage with minority communities to build trust toward politicians. CTG recommends local communities, schools, and governments invest in education, social programs, and religious leadership training that emphasizes peaceful interpretations of religious teachings. CTG also recommends governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide resources, platforms, and funding to civil society organizations working to promote religious tolerance and foster community resilience against religious extremism. CTG advises the UNHRC, OIC, and governments to collaborate on developing comprehensive measures that effectively protect freedom of religion, maintain a balance with laws against incitement of violence targeting religious texts while upholding human rights and freedom of speech. We recommend commissioning independent research studies and analyses on the intersection of freedom of religion, protection of religious texts, incitement of violence, and human rights.

CTG works to detect, deter, and defeat terrorism and will continue to monitor this situation for future developments. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H) Officers will monitor Sweden for future desecrations of religious texts and emerging religious violence threats. Our W.A.T.C.H. team will continue to gather accurate, unbiased, and truthful information on emerging global threats and terrorist attacks through CTG’s Daily Threat Activity Report (DTAR) on our Counter Threat Center website. In collaboration with EUCOM, CENTCOM, and Weapons and Tactics, CTG will analyze new information on developments on religious hatred, terrorist threats, and geopolitical impacts of further developments. Our teams will remain on high alert, providing information via Flash Alerts or Imminent Warning Reports.


[1] "Stockholms moske okt 2012a" by Holger.Ellgaard is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

[2] Quran burnings have Sweden torn between free speech and respecting minorities, AP, July 2023,

[3] Ibid

[4] Turkey Agrees To Back Sweden's Bid To Join NATO, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, July 2023,

[5] What can Sweden contribute to NATO?, DW, July 2023,

[6] Ibid

[7] Quran burnings have Sweden torn between free speech and respecting minorities, AP, July 2023,

[8] Sweden Quran burning: Iran won't send ambassador to Stockholm over incident, BBC, July 2023,

[9] FLASH ALERT: PAKISTAN’S CATHOLIC CHURCHES THREATENED BY TERRORISTS AFTER QURAN BURNING IN SWEDEN, by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Ludovica Leccese, Gabriel Helupka, Lydia Baccino, Benedetta Bisaccia

[10] Sweden Quran burning: Iran won't send ambassador to Stockholm over incident, BBC, July 2023,

[11] Afghan Taliban suspend all activities of Swedish aid groups over burning of Islam’s holy book, AP, July 2023,

[12] Kuwait to distribute 100,000 copies of Quran in Sweden after Muslim holy book desecrated at one-man protest, CBS News, July 2023,

[13] UN rights body passes disputed motion on religious hatred after Koran burning, Reuters, Juuly 2023,

[14] FLASH ALERT: PAKISTAN’S CATHOLIC CHURCHES THREATENED BY TERRORISTS AFTER QURAN BURNING IN SWEDEN, by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Ludovica Leccese, Gabriel Helupka, Lydia Baccino, Benedetta Bisaccia

[15] UN Rights Body OKs Pakistan-Led Motion On Religious Hatred After Koran Burning, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, July 2023,

[16] UN Council Condemns Alarming Rise in Religious Hatred, Voice of America, July 2023,

[17] FLASH ALERT: PAKISTAN’S CATHOLIC CHURCHES THREATENED BY TERRORISTS AFTER QURAN BURNING IN SWEDEN, by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Ludovica Leccese, Gabriel Helupka, Lydia Baccino, Benedetta Bisaccia

[18] Ulf Kristersson om koranbränningarna: ”Svårt att förstå varför”, Aftonbladet, June 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[19] @SwedishPM, Twitter, January 21 2023,

[20] Expert: Uttalande kan försvåra svenskt Natomedlemskap, Dagens Nyheter, July 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[21] @JimmieÅkesson, Facebook, January 23 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[22] Ibid

[23] Jomshof om koranbränningarna: Vi ska svara med att fortsätta, Aftonbladet, June 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[24] SD:s Richard Jomshof: Islam är sämre än kristendom, Dagens Nyheter, September 2022, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[25] Sweden is considering law change to stop public Koran burnings, Aftonbladet reports, Reuters, July 2023,

[26] Helårsbedömning 2023 - Sammanfattning, Nationellt Centrum för Terrorhotbedömning, 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[27] Ibid

[28] Five arrested over ISIS-related terror attack plans in Sweden, Euractiv, April 2023,

[29] Bröder gripna för terrorplaner mot svensk kyrka, Dagens Nyheter, May 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg

[30] U.S. cautions citizens in Sweden over possible attacks in retaliation for Koran burning, Reuters, February 2023,

[31] Koranbränningar har ökat hotbilden mot svenska representanter utomlands, Dagens Nyheter, July 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[32] FLASH ALERT: PAKISTAN’S CATHOLIC CHURCHES THREATENED BY TERRORISTS AFTER QURAN BURNING IN SWEDEN, by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Ludovica Leccese, Gabriel Helupka, Lydia Baccino, Benedetta Bisaccia

[33] Kuwait bannlyser svenska produkter, SVT Nyheter, July 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[34] Ibid

[35] Yemen's Houthi authorities ban Swedish imports over Koran burning, Reuters, July 2023,

[36] Sunniledare uppmanar till Sverigebojkott, Dagens Nyheter, January 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg

[37] Ibid

[38] Majoriteten svenskar vill förbjuda koranbränningar, SVT Nyheter, July 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[39] Riots over Koran burning test Swedish tolerance, France 24, April 2022,

[40] Ibid

[41] Utländska konton i sociala medier eldade på konflikten under helgens upplopp, Dagens Nyheter, April 2022, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[42] LVU-kampanjen, Försvarshögskolan, 2022, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[43] Ibid

[44] Fejkfilmer om Sverige har fått miljontals visningar, Dagens Nyheter, July 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[45] Ibid

[46] Polisen nekar tillstånd till ny koranbränning, Dagens Nyheter, February 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[47] Ny dom: Risk för terror kan inte stoppa koranbränning, Dagens Nyheter, June 2023, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[48] Ibid

[49] Utredare: Polisen använde inte rätt resurser vid påskupploppen, Dagens Nyheter, December 2022, (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[50] Ibid

[51] Sweden links riots to criminal gangs that target police, NPR, April 2022,

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