Cablegate: Sweden's Program of Preventing Islamist Radicalization and Extremism

DE RUEHSM #0787/01 3521428
P 181428Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2019



F. STATE 127215
H. PARIS 1714

Classified By: DCM Robert Silverman for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: The Swedish Security Police (SAPO) have three specific areas of concern when it comes to combating Islamist radicalization and violent extremism:
(1) individuals who travel from Sweden to Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq;
(2) growing isolation and alienation felt by some members of immigrant-dense urban communities; and,
(3) evidence of terrorist financing and recruiting in Sweden.

2. (C) To counter radicalization and violent extremism, law enforcement officials engage in community-based policing to establish networks of trust among community leaders and community members. While there are no de-radicalization programs in Sweden primarily focused on Islamist extremists, de-radicalization of right-wing group members has been in existence since the 1990s. On counter-terrorism, SAPO has adopted a more visible and public approach to disseminating information about terrorist threats, and the government is debating proposed laws to curb terrorist recruiting and financing in Sweden. Post's Muslim engagement plan calls for strengthening ties with faith-based institutions as well as civic leaders.

3. (C) This is the third in a three part series on Muslim communities in Sweden. Part one describes demographic trends in Muslim-majority immigrant communities (ref A), and part two outlines immigrant integration struggles in Swedish society (ref B). End Summary.

RADICALIZATION AND VIOLENT EXTREMISM ------------------------------------

4. (C) Radical Islamism and violent extremism are of increasing concern in Swedish society. "Radicalization" is viewed as an initial step toward the ideas and methods of extremism. Nalin Pekgul, chair of the Social Democratic Women's Federation and a practicing Muslim, cites harassment that some Muslim women in Sweden experience over their choice of clothing and anger toward Muslim youth who organize social gatherings with music as examples of radicalization in immigrant communities. Violent extremism has received growing attention primarily because individuals in Sweden have provided support for terrorism elsewhere.


5. (C) At a closed conference about countering extremism hosted by the Center for Asymmetric Treat Studies (CATS) on October 27, SAPO spokeswoman Malena Rembe (protect) outlined three primary areas of concern for counterterrorism experts and law enforcement agents working to prevent violence in Sweden: individuals, immigrant communities, and terrorist financing.


6. (C) SAPO acknowledged that they monitor close to 20 individuals who have traveled from Sweden to other countries including Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. These individuals are suspected of traveling abroad for possible recruitment and engagement with terrorist organizations. While abroad, the individuals may attend Arabic language courses or Koran schools in order to strengthen their ties to terrorist activities in various parts of the world. Upon return, these individuals may use Sweden as a recruitment or logistical base, said Rembe.

7. (C) One example of an individual of concern is Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish national of Algerian and Finnish decent, who was held in detention in Guantanamo Bay from 2001-2004 (ref C). Ghezali returned to Sweden, but in September 2009, he traveled to Pakistan and was arrested at a checkpoint along with three other Swedish citizens on suspicion of entering the country illegally. Ghezali was released in early October and returned to Sweden with consular assistance from GOS. He is currently living in Sweden. STOCKHOLM 00000787 002 OF 003

8. (C) Malena Rembe also discussed Abu Qaswara, also known as Mohammad Moumou, as another example of a Swedish citizen who was under SAPO surveillance for many years. Qaswara came to Sweden in the 1980s, became a citizen in the 1990s and lived in Sweden until 2006. In May 2006, he traveled to Iraq and rose to a senior position in al Qaeda in Iraq. In October 2008, he was killed by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Mosul. He led an Islamist network which supported terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Africa, according to media reports by SAPO spokesperson Tina Israelsson. SAPO believes that Qaswara used Sweden as his base of operations. -- Immigrant Communities

9. (SBU) The January 2009 "Rosengard Report," a government-funded study, found that "perceptions" of Islamic extremism had increased in the southern tip of Sweden over a five year period. The controversial report, which garnered a good deal of media attention, interviewed city officials and leaders in a central district of Malmo called Rosengard, which is home to about 22,000 of the city's 280,000 residents (ref D). Sixty percent of Rosengard residents are born abroad, and 26 percent of those born in Sweden have parents born abroad. Only 38 percent of Rosengard's residents aged 20-64 are gainfully employed compared to the national employment rate above 70 percent.

10. (SBU) While the Rosengard Report concluded that there were few "radicalized people" in the area, the report suggested that radical individuals had a relatively large influence on those around them. The report outlined both "external" and "internal" forces that exacerbated radical thinking. External forces include individuals' anger with the war in Iraq and, more generally, what some Muslims view as an assault by the West on their religion. Internal forces refer to problems that individuals encounter in their communities such as overcrowding, segregation as well as inadequate orientation to life and customs in Swedish society (ref B). -- Terrorist Financing/Money Laundering

11. (C) According to the Swedish Financial Police, there were 13,048 cases of suspected money laundering amounting to $1.2 billion in 2008, an increase of 116 percent compared to 2007. Companies in cash-intensive industries such as auto dealerships, real estate brokers and casinos continue to be less forthcoming with reports of suspected money laundering. Disrupting the ability for terrorists to raise money for terrorism is a high priority for SAPO, according to Rembe. In Sweden, legislation focuses on monitoring money laundering through financial institutions.

12. (C) In early July, the visit by Xasaan Xussen, a known spiritual leader for the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab, to the Bellevue Mosque in Gothenburg illustrates a emerging trend in recruitment from foreign individuals in Sweden (ref E). Xussen, who resides in Kenya, traveled on a Kenyan passport to Sweden, Norway and Finland, reportedly to recruit for new members and raise funds for al-Shabaab. The Somali Justice Minister Abdirahman Janaqoo then visited Sweden to speak out against such actions. (Note: The EU and UN do not currently designate al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization.)


13. (C) Prevention of radicalization forms the basis of Sweden's public strategy for counterterrorism. Since 2002, Rembe stated that SAPO has worked in diaspora communities to create networks of trust among law enforcement officials and community members through community policing initiatives that have been called "dialogue police." Of particular interest is the Somali community because Somalis make up the largest group that tend to return to fight and because Somalis now constitute the largest group seeking asylum in Sweden (ref A).

14. (C) In a break with its long tradition of silence, SAPO has gone public more and more often in recent months over its concerns about extremists from Somali communities in Sweden (ref E). For example, following the visit of Xasaan Xussen to Sweden this summer, for example, SAPO comments featured prominently into media reports. Rembo stated that these actions signaled a shift in SAPO operations from a highly secretive organization to one that fosters community visibility. STOCKHOLM 00000787 003 OF 003

15. (SBU) More broadly, Swedish officials have developed a coordinated approach to addressing terrorism. "Samverkans radet mot terrorism", a high-level working group headed by SAPO's Director General along with representatives from eleven government agencies such as financial and criminal police entities, the Armed Forces, the Swedish Migration Board, and customs and border control. The group was established in 2005.


16. (C) There are no de-radicalization efforts specifically targeting Islamic extremists in Sweden. However, Exit Sweden is one program used to de-radicalize right wing extremists. In operation since 1998, Exit Sweden has worked with some 600 individuals primarily from neo-Nazi groups. The program offers support to individuals who want to leave or have already left radical organizations. Ex-activists serve as group leaders to boost credibility of the organization, and core activities include rebuilding the individual's interpersonal network and developing social skills for the individual to re-enter mainstream life. Officials admit that de-radicalization is "very tough work" and takes a long time.


17. (C) The Swedish approach to political radicalization and violent activities has primarily focused on prevention through social engagement rather than relying on the legal force of criminal statutes. However, in December the Ministry of Justice submitted a proposal to the Swedish Council on Legislation that would criminalize inciting, recruiting and training people who commit acts of terror. This proposal would bring Swedish law in line with the European Council's Convention on Terrorism and the existing EU framework for combating terrorism. Post will monitor the proposal and will report relevant developments septel.

18. (C) Post's Muslim engagement plan will continue to amplify the President's program of framing the U.S. - Muslim relationship in terms of common values, partnership, and empowerment (ref F). Post is currently developing contacts in support of interfaith dialogue programs with religious leaders around Sweden, and we will focus our public diplomacy outreach beyond religious institutions to engage civic leaders from minority communities (ref G). Post will also reach out to Muslim individuals beyond the Stockholm metropolitan area through educational and cultural programs.


19. (C) As in other European countries (ref H), the major political parties in Sweden remain reluctant to discuss Muslim immigrant integration because of the potential to inflame xenophobic viewpoints. This posture has allowed the Sweden Democrats, a right-wing political party that advocates a nationalist agenda, to gain popularity. Recent polls suggest they will, for the first time, break the 4% threshold necessary to take seats in the Swedish Parliament in 2010. This development would, for better or worse, put the issue high on the domestic political agenda. SILVERMAN

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