The U.S. Embassy in Sweden issued a warning to Americans in the country of possible attacks in response to an incident where a politician and activist burned a copy of the Koran.
There could be “possible retaliatory attacks by terrorists in the wake of recent [Koran] burning incidents in Europe,” U.S. Embassy said in an alert on Sunday. “U.S. citizens are advised to use caution when going to public venues frequented by large numbers of people.”
The United States, however, has not updated its travel advisory for Sweden, which currently tells Americans to exercise normal precautions in the country.
“Gathering sites such as places of worship could be targeted,” the bulletin said. “Please use caution when in, and around, all diplomatic facilities. Report suspicious activity to the relevant authorities.”
It came days after a Swedish politician who opposes mass immigration burned a copy of the Koran at a Stockholm protest last month against Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s bid to join NATO. There were separate incidents in which the Koran was burned in the Netherlands and Denmark in recent days as well.
The protest in Stockholm drew sharp criticism from the Turkish government, which said Sweden should not have allowed the “anti-Islam” act. Ankara then suspended talks on NATO accession with Sweden and Finland, which the two nations have sought starting last year following the start of the Russia–Ukraine war.
Sweden’s foreign ministry, too, advised its citizens in Turkey to avoid crowds and demonstrations. The U.S. Embassy in Turkey, along with the missions of other Western nations, issued security alerts over possible retaliatory attacks against places of worship following the incident in Sweden.
“Swedes in Turkey are asked to stay updated on the development of events and to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations,” the foreign ministry said on its advice page for Swedes abroad. “Continued demonstrations can be expected outside the embassy in Ankara and the consulate general in Istanbul in the coming days.”
Sweden’s security service was aware of the U.S. warning, said spokesperson Adam Samara, but referred questions to U.S. authorities. The service’s own current assessment is that the threat of attacks remains “elevated” at level three on a five-level scale, Samara added.
In neighboring Norway, authorities there banned a planned protest last week over concerns that a copy of the book would be burned. Police said that protesters were seeking to burn a copy outside the Turkish embassy in Oslo.
“The police emphasize that burning the [Koran] is a legal political statement in Norway, but this event can’t go ahead due to security concerns,” Oslo police Inspector Martin Strand said in a statement to Al Jazeera, a Qatar-backed broadcaster, last week. It came after Turkey’s foreign ministry lodged a complaint with Norway’s ambassador.
Both Sweden and Finland, meanwhile, need all 30 members of NATO, of which Turkey is a founding member, to back their bid to join the military bloc. Turkey has previously said that Sweden must take action against what it describes are Kurdish terrorists.
Several Gulf and Middle Eastern countries have issued condemnations over the protests in Sweden and elsewhere. In late January, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement of “strong condemnation and denunciation” of such incidents, according to reports.
Rasmus Paludan, who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, staged the incendiary protest outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. “If you don’t think there should be freedom of expression, you have to live somewhere else,” he told the crowd last month, the AFP news agency reported.
“This is [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s fault. Now that he doesn’t want to let Sweden into NATO, I have to teach him about freedom of speech until he does,” Paludan told local media outlets last month at another protest in Denmark, reported the Daily Mail.
Reuters contributed to this report.