Göteborg: Recruiting grounds for IS
In the wake of Friday’s attacks in Paris, Europe finds itself under a cloud of anxiety and great concern. Trepidation is almost palpable as I walk the streets of Gothenburg under gray skies. News reports – all of them writing about terrorism and the possibility of local threats – are not just writing hyperbole. This is our new reality.
“There is a risk of attack in Sweden,” Sirpa Franzen, press officer at Säpo (Sweden’s security service) told Göteborgs Posten today. “Our most important job is to ensure that something can not happen and that we soon discover if anything is going on. This is work we must never let go.”
News this weekend has alerted the residents of Gothenburg to some startling facts.
While Franzen admits that it is always difficult to measure figures and statistics between EU cities and countries, “Gothenburg stands out,” she said.
Gothenburg is, per capita, the European city which contributes the largest number of people to Islamic extremist groups. The largest in IS recruitment, reported Göteborgs Posten on Sunday morning.
According to the latest information from Säpo, more than 280 Swedes have joined the Islamic State. 115 have returned to Sweden and 40 have died. Forty percent – approximately 120 men and women – have come from the Gothenburg area, primarily Bergsjön and Angered.
“We are facing a historic challenge as far as violence-promoting Islamist extremism is concerned. It is the Security Service’s job to protect Sweden and keep track of those who return from fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq,” Anders Thornberg, Head of Swedish Security Service, said in Saturday’s morning news program on TV4.
There has been a continued increase in the number of individuals who have travelled from Sweden to join Islamic terrorist groups. Säpo has identified the 115 people who have returned, know them by name, and consider them of the greatest interest to security as these returning recruits often enjoy a “rock star” type of status which they use to inspire others to convert.
The UN reports that jihadists pay families up to $10,000 per new recruit. Militant recruits are chosen from the same profile as are those who are recruited into Gothenburg’s criminal gangs – namely young men and women who believe they have no future in Sweden’s second largest city. And that kind of money is very tempting to Gothenburg’s most vulnerable.
Ulf Boström, Integration police, is Gothenburg’s local authority on recruitment to the Middle East and Africa. In late August, Boström spoke in front of 35,000 Muslims in London at the Muslim Ahmadiyya community’s annual convention. Along with the Islamic State, Boström revealed other terrorist organizations are also represented in Sweden, such as al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab.
“This network has strength, intellectual capacity and the ability to coordinate,” Ulf Boström told GP regarding Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, France. “They are no fools. They know their opponents.”
“The Caliphate is here.” “Convert or die.” These were the threatening messages written on the outside of Mark Samuelson’s Le Pain Francais restaurant in Västra Frölunda in October. It was the second time that IS messages of terror had been graffitied on the outside of Christian Assyrian businesses in Gothenburg within one week. The Arab letter N (for Nasrani or Christian) also appeared on Samuelson’s walls as well as on the neighboring pizzeria, also a Christian Assyrian business. This symbol has been used by IS militants in Mosul – spray painted on Christian property to be seized. Hundreds of families were expelled from that city in 2014.
Presently there is nothing which prevents recruits from returning to Sweden after their time in Syria and when they return they are full fledged IS fighters with a mission. Boström is disappointed with the legislation and he believes that the State behaves naively when allowing the recruits to return without penalty or action.
“My experience says that the one who is allowed to return home has been approved by his superiors. Those whose loyalty is not 100 percent certain are not allowed to return,” said Boström.
Endnote: According to several news reports French police has found a Syrian passport in the vicinity of Stade de France. The owner of the passport is reported to be registered as a Syrian refugee and yet according to Dagens Nyheter, Interior Minister Anders Ygeman (S) sees no need to further tighten Sweden’s border controls. “It is not the first choice for anyone who is about to commit an act of terrorism,” said Ygeman.
“We must remember that the aim of IS is to spread fear and increase tensions. So far, there is no known link between the (Paris) attack and Sweden,” he told the newspaper.
Writer/photographer Lisa Mikulski. Available for print or online publications and business in the Nordic region, Europe, and the U.S. Editorial, news, features.