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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Swedes recruited by Somali terror group

An al-Qaeda-linked extremist group in Somalia has recruited more than 20 young people from Sweden to fight in the war-torn African country, the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) fears.

Somali Islamic insurgency group Harakat al-Shabab Mujahideen ("Movement of Warrior Youth"), better known as Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, is thought to have recruited dozens of Swedish youth to engage in terrorist acts, according to Göteborgs-Tidningen.

Gothenburg was identified by several sources as the largest recruitment base in the country, the report said. Sweden is also a fundraising hub for the group, according to Svenska Dagbladet editorial writer Per Gudmundson, who has written extensively about the issue.

"I think it's a very serious threat because it's not only a threat to Somalis in Somalia, it's also a threat to Swedish security," Gudmundson told The Local.

"People who go through wars and conflicts in war zones come back as trained operatives. We've had in Sweden people who've been trained in Afghanistan and come back as seasoned veterans. They are regarded with high esteem in jihadist terms and can motivate young people to fight. Also, when it comes to Swedish security, we are not immune to this. The Mohammed caricatures have shown places in northern Europe can be targets."

At a mosque - a converted food hall - in Gothenburg's Gamlestan quarter, a Danish-Somali man who tried to assassinate Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who drew the controversial Mohammed cartoon published in Jyllands-Posten, tried to recruit followers, according to a Danish newspaper.

"There are no supporters of al-Shabab here," mosque spokesman Abdi Fatah Shidane told Göteborgs-Tidningen.

Young men in Sweden are brainwashed, trained and recruited by terrorists on Somali terrorist movement al-Shabab, according to an informant who spoke to the paper. One recruit was arrested in connection with death threats against Danish People's Party leader Pia Kjærsgaard.

According to Säpo, al-Shabab sympathisers across the country are concentrated in big cities and recruit young people here for war and terrorist acts, as well as raising money for the movement.

Inspector Per-Olof Hellqvist of Säpo in Gothenburg confirmed to Göteborgs-Tidningen that young men from the Gothenburg area have traveled to Somalia.

"However, we do not know what they are doing there," he told the paper.

According to Gudmundson, the UN's special group on the Horn of Africa made a report on recruitment and financing that singled out Sweden as a hub for both recruitment and financing.

"The jihadist problem is worse in Denmark, I don't know why, but the Somali hub is bigger in Sweden," he told The Local.

Swedish Integration and Gender Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni of the Liberal Party recently ordered Säpo to conduct a report on the scale of violence-prone religious radicalism in the country because the numbers are unclear. Gudmundson estimates about 1500 people in Sweden would be labelled Islamists with hardcore tendencies, while about 100 to 200 would possibly engage in violence.

"These are not big figures, not many, but as we sadly know, just a handful is enough," he told The Local. "To many, it's a nationalistic thing. Young males are always prone. They have a different view of life."

About 400,000 to 500,000 people in Sweden have roots in Muslim countries, he said.

"Mainly, Al-Shabab is a Somali phenomenon, but they attract young guys who are sympathetic to the global jihadist movement," Gudmundson told The Local. "However, few want to travel to Somalia. It's the armpit of the world."

As for why Gothenburg is the hub for Al-Shabab in Sweden, Gudmundson believes it is related to Somali clan immigration patterns, which are also evident in other Somali communities across the country.

In addition, Gothenburg is home to Al-Shabab's largest online community, alqimmah.net, which was established by a former Nazi who converted to Islam, with information mostly in Somali as well as Arabic and one sub-forum in English that picks up the newest translations, Gudmundson told The Local.

"Sweden isn't good at integrating Somalis compared to the UK and US," he said.

"We make a better living and it's expensive to hire people in Sweden. Somalis are often not well educated and are not easy to hire. It's very hard for the Somali community to get into the workforce."

Gudmundson added he believes the situation is worsening in Somalia. "I know it sounds silly to say about a country that's gone 18 years without a functional government, but now it's even worse because now, not only does the small weak transitional government fight against one Islamic militia, it has to fight another and they also fight against each other. It's everyone against everyone."

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