The Swedish Embassy in the US has teasingly hit out at Donald Trump after he falsely suggested Sweden had suffered an immigration-related security incident, before later clarifying that he was in fact referring to a now discredited Fox News report.
Speaking at a Florida rally on Saturday, Trump said Sweden was having serious problems with immigrants: “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” he told the crowd.
“Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
No incident occurred in Sweden on Friday and the country’s baffled government later asked the US State Department to explain Trump’s comments.
Since then, Trump has clarified his position, saying he was referring to a Fox News report that ran on Friday about alleged migrant-related crime problems in the country, rather than an incident that had taken place in Sweden the same day.
The Fox News report has since been discredited in Sweden as “full of errors and exaggerations”, Maddy Savage, a British journalist working in Stockholm, told the Today programme on Monday.
Savage said that newspapers in Sweden had ridiculed Trump over his claim, with one paper writing in an editorial that the US President “lives in his own head, playing out his own psychodrama”. Another newspaper, she said, had detailed all the “incidents” that had occurred across the country on Friday, which included road closures and a police chase involving a drink driver.
The Embassy of Sweden in the US said on Sunday said it was looking “forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies”.
A day earlier, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom appeared to respond to Trump by posting on Twitter an excerpt of a speech in which she said democracy and diplomacy “require us to respect science, facts and the media”.
Her predecessor, former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, was less circumspect, writing in a post on Twitter: “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?”
On Sunday, a White House spokeswoman told reporters that Trump had been referring generally to rising crime, not a specific incident in the Scandinavian country.
But Sweden’s crime rate has fallen since 2005, official statistics show, even as it has taken in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq.
Savage told the Today programme that despite Sweden having the “highest number of Islamic State fighters per capita in Europe”, it had not suffered any terrorist attacks since having an “open door policy”. She added that in 2016 there was around 6,000 more reported crimes than in 2015, “a tiny increase”.
Trump’s comments led to him being savagely skewered on Twitter, with JK Rowling adding to a medley of humorous mockery.
Emma Johansen, a school librarian who was running the official @sweden twitter account on Saturday night told the Today programme that Trump’s comments had caught her off guard.
Johansen found herself fielding hundreds of questions from concerned people in Sweden eager to find out what “incident” had taken place.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” she said, adding that one commenter later explained the situation to her by forwarding her a clip of Trump’s speech and a link to the Fox news report.
Johansen said she did not feel like she was “in charge of Swedish diplomacy for the day”, and felt under no pressure in responding to international concerns.
“I didn’t see it like that at the time. I just told the truth.”
Trump has been widely criticised for making assertions with little or no supporting evidence, during his, so-far, brief tenure as US President.
He has said more than 3 million people voted fraudulently in the US election, which officials say is false, and incorrectly stated that he won by the most decisive margin in decades. Trump has also routinely attacked the media for reporting fake news when reports have not been favourable of him.