Sweden is facing an increasing threat from extremist groups due to radicalization and funding from foreign terrorist groups, a report has said.
The publication of the report came when the police in Sweden arrested two women on Monday, suspected of links to ISIS, after they flew back from Syria.
The 115-page report, called Boundless extremism: A study of transnational connections to Swedish radical environments, warns that extremist groups in Sweden can be “strengthened” through their contacts with foreign countries due to common tactical knowledge, ideologies and financing.
The study, written by the Defense College on behalf of the Center against Violent Extremism, examined 19 terrorist cases and identified examples of terrorists who communicated with foreign extremists and of those who participated in training camps abroad.
It refers to the case of Rakhmat Akilov, who killed five people and injured 15 others in a terrorist attack in Drottninggatan 2017.
Akilov was radicalized before the attack, according to the report.
“Both before, during and after the act, Akilov was in contact with people outside Sweden,” it said.
“These transnational contacts were made via telephone, social media and communication applications such as Facebook, Zello, WhatsApp and Telegram.
“There were a total of 209 chat communications – individual or group chats – registered in Akilov’s mobile phone and 16 were judged to have a direct impact on the attack.
“Akilov’s case is a clear example of the existence of both operational and ideological transnational links, and where both forms of connections seem to have been important to the course of events.”
The study also mentioned links between the Nordic resistance movement and German extremist groups.
“The connections risk having a capacity-increasing effect on the environment in all respects,” it said.
“This in the form of everything from increased tactical and practical knowledge, ideological inspiration and funding.”
The report highlighted the role of transnational links within the three Swedish extremist circles.
“The importance of these links is likely to continue to increase,” the report said.
“It should be emphasized that the number of transnational connections is significantly higher than those involved in the study. This is because it is virtually impossible to get an overall overview of all existing connections and their importance, based on available open information.”
It recommended that the authorities review their ability to access encrypted networks and improve the transparency of funding groups received from abroad.
“Transparency in certain types of organizational forms, such as foundations and associations, is very limited,” says Magnus Ranstorp, one of the report’s authors.
“It is necessary to keep in mind that significant donations from foreign actors should be declared publicly.”
The report called for more research on the links.
“As has been emphasized several times, the Swedish extremist milieus do not work together in a national vacuum – on the contrary, transnational relations are crucial to their ability and development, which is likely to continue to increase in importance in the future,” it said.
“An increased academic focus on this dimension is crucial for designing precise countermeasures against the violent extremist milieus, which in the long run can contribute to a safer environment and society.”
On Wednesday, the alleged Swedish extremist Osama Krayem will be brought to justice over accusations of involvement in the Paris attacks in 2015.
This week, Swedish prosecutors announced that he was under investigation for “war crimes” committed in Syria.
He has also been involved in the attacks in Brussels on March 22, 2016 and was identified by Belgian investigators as one of the alleged executioners of a Jordanian pilot who was murdered by ISIS in early 2015 in Syria.
Originally from Malmö in southern Sweden, he is accused of having joined ISIS in Syria in 2014 before returning to Europe by taking advantage of open roads for migrants.
About 300 Swedes or Swedish residents, a quarter of them women, joined extremist organizations in Syria and Iraq, mainly between 2013 and 2014, according to the country’s intelligence service.
Half of them have since returned home.
Due to the lack of Swedish legislation to prosecute “returnees” for associating with a terrorist organization, accusations have been rare.
On Monday, the police in Stockholm arrested two women after they arrived at the airport from a camp in Syria.
A statement from the prosecutor’s office said several investigations were under way against men and women returning from areas that had been controlled by ISIS.
“The international crimes that are relevant to people for people returning from ISIS-controlled areas are war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity,” said prosecutor Reena Devgun.
“Sweden has an international commitment to investigate and prosecute these crimes.”
Updated: September 7, 2021, 1:53 p.m.