Donald Trump appeared to invent a terrorist attack in Sweden during a campaign-style rally in Florida on Saturday, inviting questions that he may have confused the Scandinavian country with a city in Pakistan.
With thousands of supporters gathered in an aircraft hangar in Melbourne, Florida, Trump used his speech to talk about migration in Europe and linked it to terror attacks in Brussels, Nice and Paris. He then added Sweden to the list, incorrectly stating that an attack had happened there on Friday.
Trump told supporters: “We’ve got to keep our country safe. 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. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.”
There were questions about whether Trump had confused Sweden with Sehwan in Pakistan, where more than 85 people were killed in a suicide bombing at the Sufi shrine on Thursday.
Some Swedes were baffled by the comments. One of Sweden’s official Twitter accounts, controlled by a different citizen each week, currently a school librarian, said:Sweden’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Catarina Axelsson, said the government wasn’t aware of any “terror-linked major incidents”.
She told the Associated Press that the Swedish embassy in Washington contacted the State Department on Sunday to request clarification of Trump’s remarks and was waiting for an answer.
The former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt tweeted: “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”
The source of Trump’s remark is unclear, but it came after Fox News aired an interview with film-maker Ami Horowitz, whose latest documentary examines whether high crime rates in areas of Sweden is linked to its previous open-door policy on people fleeing war and persecution.
According to the 2016 Swedish Crime Survey, crime rates in Sweden have stayed relatively stable over the last decade, with some fluctuations. In 2015, there were 112 cases of lethal violence in Sweden, an increase of 25 cases compared with 2014, but assaults, threats, sexual offences, car theft, burglary and harassment all reduced compared to the previous year – as did anxiety about crime in society.
Trump’s comments come after Kellyanne Conway, one of his senior advisers, was ridiculed for blaming two Iraqi refugees for a massacre that never happened.
At the start of February Conway cited the fictitious “Bowling Green massacre” in an interview backing the travel ban imposed on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Two Iraqi men living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, were arrested in 2011 over a failed attempt to send money and weapons to al-Qaida in Iraq. They are currently serving life sentences for federal terrorism offences, but there was no massacre, nor were they accused of planning one.
On 29 January, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, referred three times to an attack in Atlanta – where a string of bombings were carried out in 1996 and 1997.
Later, in an email to ABC News, he wrote that he “clearly meant Orlando”.
Forty-nine people were killed and more injured in the attack at Pulse, a gay nightclub in the Floridian city in June. It was carried out by Omar Mateen, a US citizen born in New York to Afghan parents. Afghanistan is not on the list of countries under Trump’s travel ban.
Trump has repeatedly accused what he described as the “dishonest media” of producing “fake news”. He repeated the attack on Saturday stating: “When the media lies to people I will never ever let them get away with it.”
He added: “We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live and what to believe,” he said. “We are free, independent people and we will make our own choices.”
After Trump’s remarks in Florida, the Swedish news outlet Aftonbladet posted a story about crime that really had occurred in Sweden on Friday. Non-fake news it ran included: “Due to harsh weather in northern parts of Sweden the road E10 was closed between Katterjakk and Riksgransen” and “a man died in hospital, after an accident in the workplace earlier that day”.
It added: “OK let’s not be fake news, this story took place in the autumn, but was reported Friday before lunchtime and we thought you would like it. A wooden moose got the attention of a lovesick moose bull.”Former UK footballer Gary Lineker poked fun at Trump, tweeting:To which one of his followers replied:Another Twitter user posted a picture of famous Swedish export Abba, writing: “Four extremists responsible for #swedenincident are still at large, if you see these people phone @realDonaldTrump at once.”