An al-Qaida-linked group is busy recruiting anti-government fighters among Somali youths living in the Stockholm suburb Rinkeby, according to a recent AP report.
Staff and wire reports
The problems Sweden faces integrating large numbers of Muslim immigrants is a subject on which Nordstjernan columnist Ulf Nilson has written many times. His warnings of increasing radicalization among Sweden’s Muslims – warnings he started to broadcast a decade ago – now seem eerily prophetic in light of an Associated Press investigation that found Stockholm to be a breeding ground for jihadists among Swedish Somalis.
According to the AP report, which first ran Jan. 24, an al-Qaida-linked group is busy recruiting anti-government fighters among Somali youths living in Rinkeby. A suburb of Stockholm, Rinkeby has earned the nickname of “Little Mogadishu” because of the number of Somalis living there. Rinkeby is also the center of the recruiting efforts of al-Shabab, a group with ties to al-Qaida.
The most disquieting aspect of this effort is who al-Shabab is targeting – second-generation Somali immigrants. According to AP, about 20 Rinkeby residents have joined a bloody insurgency against Somalia's government. According to SÄPO, the Swedish state security police, five of them have been killed and 10 are still at large in Somalia.
The issue has gained notice at a time of worsening fears of Islamic radicalism in the Scandinavian countries, home to more than 40,000 Somalis who have fled their war-ravaged homeland. These fears sharpened with the Jan. 1 attack by a Somali immigrant in Denmark on a cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.
"It's a small group but they have power," Abadirh Abdi Hussein told the AP.
Kadaffi Hussein, a 25-year-old hip-hop artist and "110-percent Muslim," has become the best known Somali in Rinkeby because of his campaign to counter al-Shabab's influence. "People don't speak up against them. They don't dare."
A 24-year-old Rinkeby resident, who came to Sweden with his family in 1991, and who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone, said his uncle was with a group that left Rinkeby in mid-2008. According to the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his family's safety, the uncle said that he was traveling within Sweden and would only be gone a few weeks.
Speaking in Swedish, the man said that he, too, was approached repeatedly by an al-Shabab recruiting agent, but turned him down.
"He used to ask questions like, 'have you ever thought about the way things are in Somalia? Do you want to help?' You knew what he was getting at: jihad," he said.
Hussein, the hip-hop artist, said youth who were approached by al-Shabab told him they were shown videos of al-Qaida suicide bombings and urged to become jihadists in their ancestral homeland.
As his worries worsened, he started going public to Swedish media on the issue last year. Since then, resistance to the extremists has grown and last month dozens showed up for a rally against al-Shabab in Rinkeby.
The singer's campaign has also prompted Swedish politicians to talk about the spread of extremism in immigrant suburbs, something that in the past might have drawn charges of being hostile to Muslims.
Experts say the Somali community is especially vulnerable to extremist influence because it's the least integrated immigrant group in Scandinavia. Since the 1990s, more than 25,000 have come to Sweden, 17,000 to Norway and about 10,000 to Denmark.
Denmark's intelligence service says the ax-wielding man who was shot and wounded by Danish police after breaking into cartoonist Kurt Westergaard's home was an al-Shabab-linked Somali with a Danish residence permit. In December a Danish man of Somali descent killed 24 people in a suicide bombing in Mogadishu.
Michael Taarnby of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, in paper he prepared for EUROPOL, the European Union police force, said the problems with integrating large numbers of Muslim immigrants makes them susceptible to terrorist recruiting.
“The recruiter personalizes the true believer, whereas the candidate is treated as unenlightened individual,” Taarnby said. “The recruitment relationship is necessarily based on inequality.”
Somali community leaders in Scandinavia say support for al-Shabab has dropped in recent years as people have become aware of its increasingly violent tactics and extreme fundamentalism. That awareness, however, hasn’t stopped the recruitment effort.
Al-Shabab, which wants to install strict Islam in Somalia, controls much of the desert nation's southern region and large parts of the capital. Intelligence officials say it is recruiting foreign fighters, including from the Somali diaspora in Europe and North America. U.S. authorities say as many as 20 recruits have left Minnesota.
In Sweden, police say they can do little to stop them leaving for Somalia unless they can prove that they are conspiring to commit terrorism. Unlike the U.S., Sweden has not put al-Shabab on any terrorism list.
"Legally you can't prosecute anyone, neither the youth nor those who urged them to go," said Johnny Lindh, police superintendent in the precinct that includes Rinkeby.
Lindh said police have been in touch with several devastated parents who said their sons secretly joined al-Shabab and traveled to Somalia without telling their families.
Taarnby, in his report, said the flow of jihadists from Scandinavia to the Middle East and, increasingly, wars on the African continent, would continue until European leaders confront the issues Muslim immigrants face in their new homes.
“Problems that originate in marginalization and alienation are currently being channeled into a global cause that insists on solidarity between Muslims,” he said. “Without solid and evidence-based research, counter-terrorism policies lack the foundation for carrying out the right decisions.
It is a problem Integration Minister Nyamko Sabuni, herself an immigrant from Burundi, said the Swedish government must address if it is to combat and halt the recruitment of jihadists. "Local officials and politicians working in these areas don't always have the knowledge needed.”
Integration Minister Nyamko Sabuni, above, has said the Swedish government must address the issues Muslim immigrants face in their new homes.
Minister for Integration and Gender Equality. Photo: Pawel Flato.