HomeEuropeMystery drones over Sweden spark security scare

Mystery drones over Sweden spark security scare

STOCKHOLM — As darkness fell Tuesday night, Stockholmers looked to the skies and wondered whether the drones were coming back.

Over recent days, reports have multiplied of black-winged machines flying at night over a range of sensitive sites, including three nuclear power stations, a large water treatment plant and a royal palace. 

A photo published by the Swedish daily Expressen on Tuesday — shot by a passerby, Mathias Øgendal — showed what appeared to be a drone flying over the central Stockholm amusement park Gröna Lund. 

“I saw it through the front windscreen of my car, flying high over the city,” Øgendal told the paper. “I thought it was strange that it was flying around there.”

In a sign that the reports are being taken seriously by the authorities, the Swedish Security Service (known as Säpo), said it has taken over the investigation into the flights over the nuclear power stations.

Per Engström, a police chief in Stockholm, told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Wednesday morning that no suspects had been identified so far, but that investigations continued and the police remained open-minded about eventual motives behind the drone activity. 

“There is plenty of speculation about motives — that it could, for example, be an attempt at mapping out sites,” he said. “It could also be people who have flown their drones into these places by mistake.” 

But as the number of reports of drones has increased, and as eyewitness descriptions have suggested the machines were of a winged type favored by the military, speculation has grown that a hostile state could be responsible. 

With relations between Russia and Western nations — including Sweden — as tense as they have been in decades, that speculation has centered on Moscow and whether the drone flights could be connected in some way to the worsening regional security picture.

“It is an obvious thought that occurs, but it is impossible to judge, you can only speculate about that, and people do,” said Martin Hagström, a research director at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. “That is one reason why it is important to investigate this.”

The Russian embassy in Stockholm did not respond to an email requesting comment on the speculation that there could be a link between Russia and the drone sightings. 

The first drone sightings were reported on Friday evening over the nuclear power stations Forsmark — just north of Stockholm — and Ringhals and Oskarshamn in the south of Sweden. Over the days since, similar observations have been made over the royal palace at Drottningholm and a large water treatment works at Norsborg — both on the edge of Stockholm — and government offices in the city center.

While the drones’ origin remains a mystery, what is clear is that the aircraft arrived at an unusually tense time for Sweden. 

Last week, the country increased its military presence on its strategically important Baltic Sea island of Gotland amid reports of unusual naval activity by Russia in nearby waters. 

Accusations and denials

An era of heightened Swedish suspicions about Russian military and intelligence activities arguably began in 2013, when a group of military planes flew close to the Swedish coast in what was later assessed to be a simulated attack on Stockholm. 

In 2014, a submarine was assessed to have entered waters near Stockholm sparking a massive naval hunting operation. Russia denied involvement, but senior Swedish lawmakers pointed the finger at Moscow. 

Sweden has had problems with mystery drones before. In 2016, a military training exercise was halted when mystery unmanned aircraft were spotted overhead. 

Swedish authorities said that the investigation into these latest drone flights is ongoing and comments from police chief Engström suggested some progress was being made. 

“We have begun to see certain patterns in how they behave around certain facilities so we hope to get closer to the truth in various ways,” he said.



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