Story highlights

Sweden reacts to US President's suggestion that something terrible had taken place in the country

Disbelief, anger and humor greet Donald Trump's reference to "what's happening last night in Sweden"

Stockholm CNN  — 

“Has someone stolen our meatballs?”

That was the panic-inducing question that hit Djamel Zeghachov when US President Donald Trump told the world about a terrible incident he says happened on Friday night in Sweden.

“We’ve got to keep our country safe,” Trump said at a rally in Florida on Saturday. “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

Residents of the Scandinavian country remain puzzled about exactly what he meant.

Trump’s Sweden comment raises questions

“We were like, what’s happened right now? Has somebody stolen our meatballs?” Zeghachov, a driver in Stockholm, told CNN. “People were laughing about it.”

Trump explains

The President clarified his remarks Sunday, posting on Twitter that his statement “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”

The tweet confirmed assumptions of many that Trump’s remarks stemmed from Tucker Carlson’s show Friday night, in which the host interviewed Ami Horowitz, a filmmaker who has tried to tie Sweden’s taking in of asylum seekers to increased violent crimes in the country.

Early Monday, Trump commented again, tweeting: “Give the public a break - The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!”

But this is not the first time Trump’s administration has made a misplaced reference to a terrorist attack or incident.

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway inaccurately referred to a “Bowling Green massacre” that never took place, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer referred to a terrorist attack in Atlanta, later clarifying that he meant to refer to Orlando.

Sweden reacts

On Sunday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters the President was “talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general and not referring to a specific incident.” She said he did not mean to say “last night.”

In a statement released Monday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom welcomed Trump’s clarification, but added: “The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Sweden’s embassies work continuously to disseminate an accurate and fair image of Sweden. Unfortunately, we are seeing a general upward trend in inaccurate information.”

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, tweeted of his disbelief at US President’s original comment.

“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?” Bildt tweeted. “Questions abound.”

Those questions have been finding their way around social media all weekend.

Sweden, which allows citizens to run its national Twitter account, has been inundated with messages and support from abroad.

Max Karlsson, a 22-year-old paralegal, who took over the account Monday, said the entire saga had been like “an episode of Seinfeld.”

“The general feeling about Trump’s statement was a huge collective ‘What did he just say?’ Karlsson told CNN.

“My personal reaction was that I was not looking forward to the aftermath, with meta discussions about Sweden’s state instead of a continued focus on a President which keeps delivering uncertain and untrue statements.

“The reaction to the tweets has been overall supportive, with a lot of American users saying: ‘Hey, it’s not just you, we have no idea what he’s talking about either.’

“Some users have sought to provoke with far-right memes and quotes about me being a ‘snowflake communist,’ but those just end up in the ‘block’ or ‘mute’ pile.”

In the newsroom

While Trump’s comments confused millions, those inside the newsroom at Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet were similarly perplexed.

“People were saying: ‘What’s he talking about? What did we miss?” Martin Schori, head of foreign news at Aftonbladet, told CNN.

“We knew there was a big terror attack in Pakistan and so we wondered, ‘Did he confuse Sweden with Pakistan?’

“Pretty quickly, people began pointing out that it must have been this Fox News story because he’s famous for watching that network and basing his policies on it.”

During his speech, Trump cited incidents in Germany, Brussels and Nice – all of which have suffered terrorist attacks – so the inclusion of Sweden, which has not endured such horrific incidents, left many many viewers confused.

“We were all a bit surprised, especially since he mentioned Sweden while mentioning other cities where there have been very serious and large-scale terrorist attacks happening,” Schori added. “We have not had that here.”

Serious concerns

Swedish author Johan Norberg was in Washington for the weekend when Trump was making his speech in Florida.

After sharing jokes whether it would be safe for him to return home and searching online for what had happened in Sweden while he had been overseas, Norberg said he realized there was a more serious side to the story.

“It was surreal but in a way we’re used to it, it seems like he’s constantly picking up small fragments of facts and turning it into something different,” he said of Trump.

The statistics

In recent years, Sweden has taken in more refugees per capita than any other European country. In 2015, more than 160,000 people arrived in Sweden seeking asylum, many of those from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Sweden granted asylum to 101,025 refugees from 2012 to 2015. That’s about 1% of the total population (9.85 million in 2015).

In January 2016, a 22-year-old woman was murdered at the asylum center where she worked, leading to pressure on the government to curb the number of migrants coming into the country.

Last year saw a huge decrease in arrivals, with just under 30,000 seeking asylum.

Professor Jerzy Sarnecki from Stockholm University’s Department of Criminology believes much of the criticism of Sweden’s refugee policy comes down to an anti-Islam, anti-immigration agenda.

“I’m a sociologist by background. It is obvious that there is a political agenda in all of this,” he told CNN.

The same could be said of some parts of Sweden’s population and political sphere, he added.

“The reason is that the forces in the West are at the moment very much afraid of Muslims,” he said. “Through the discussion of crime they are trying to put forward an agenda against taking in the Muslim refugees to the West.”


According to statistics provided by the Swedish Crime Survey, there has only been a small year-on-year increase in crime.

The number of all reported crimes rose 7% between 2012-2015 while the population increased by 3% at the same time.

“The last two years we have some increase of homicides,” Sarnecki added.

“It’s the last two years and it has been below the level we had in the 1980s.

“This increase in deadly violence is attributed to few suburbs in this country with very serious social economic problems.”

CNN’s Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.