Back in 2004, in one of his most recognized messages to America, Osama bin Laden, in response to then President George Bush Jr.'s position that Al Qaeda hates freedom, rhetorically asked, "If so [if Al Qaeda hates freedom], let him explain to us why we have not attacked Sweden, for example."

Days ago, on December 11, an Al Qaeda affiliated suicide bomber attacked Sweden — the first terrorist attack in three decades of Swedish history, and its first ever suicide attack. The attempt largely failed (only the bomber died, two Swedes were injured). Even so, it could have been truly catastrophic.

So much for Sweden epitomizing Al Qaeda's respect for freedom. Why the change in policy? According to an audio-recording issued by the terrorists minutes before the attack, the vitriol is such that "all Mujahadeen [jihadists] in Europe and Sweden" are to prepare for action: "Now is the time to strike, do not wait any longer."

Would-be future jihadists were further advised to attack with "whatever you have, even if it is a knife" — a bag of nails was found near the body of the suicide bomber indicating that the jihadists may have been taking lessons from Al Qaeda's popular online magazine, Inspire, which, among other things, offers creative tips on how to transform household items into lethal weapons.

As for motive, according to the audio-recording, there are three: Sweden will be a target of the jihad "as long as you do not [1] end your war against Islam and [2] humiliation of the Prophet and [3] your stupid support for the pig Vilks."

The first point — "war against Islam" — appears to be a reference to the fact that Sweden has a 500 troop presence in Afghanistan. Even so, Sweden is only one of nearly fifty countries —including Muslim ones —to have a presence in Afghanistan; Turkey alone has nearly four times as many troops there. Yet most of these nations have not (yet) been targeted. Moreover, Sweden has been a troop contributing nation since July 24, 2003 — well over a year before Osama portrayed it as a neutral country, undeserving of attack. (Perhaps he meant Switzerland, which is known for its neutrality, and is often conflated with Sweden by Arabs?)

The second and third reasons cited — "humiliation of the Prophet" and "support for Vilks" — are one and the same and the immediate reason behind the attack. Context: back in 2007, Swedish artist Lars Vilks drew unflattering caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Since then, Al Qaeda has set a bounty on him (the reward increases if he is "slaughtered like a lamb"); he has already been physically assaulted and his house nearly burned down.

Swedish freedom of speech and expression, then, is what prompted the attack. In fact, eliminating Western freedoms — or at least conforming them to the dictates of sharia law, which, among other requirements, forbid mockery of Muhammad — is a longstanding Islamist goal. Nor is it limited to violence; rather, the West's legal system is being exploited, through what is dubbed "lawfare," to censor free speech concerning Islam (prompting countermeasures such as the Middle East Forum's Legal Project).

More generally, when assessing why jihadists attack this or that country, other factors to consider include capability and timing ("Now is the time to strike, do not wait any longer," said the recording). From an Islamist point of view, Sweden has long been deserving of attack, simply for contributing the 500 troops to Afghanistan — just as the nearly fifty contributing nations are all fair game.

More to the point, even the most neutral country that has no dealings with Islam is an eventual target; if and when it gets attacked is based on if and when the Islamic world resurrects the caliphate — again, capability and timing being the ultimate determinants. Once a militarily capable caliphate is established, offensive jihad to subject the world to sharia law becomes no less obligatory than stifling mockery of Muhammad. In short, it is not about what this or that country does; Islamist animosity for infidels is intrinsic, kept at bay only by circumstance.

And so, to respond to Osama bin Laden's 2004 question "why we [Al Qaeda] have not attacked Sweden," the answer is — because the time was not quite right then.

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