From a region that used to be known for its ski jumping and cross country skiers.
We know less about Finnish Islamist extremists. But among them, too, it is possible to detect signs of the movement around Anjem Choudary. In March 2013, Choudary visited a Helsinki conference held in support of the jailed Norwegian Islamist known as Mullah Krekar, the former leader of the Kurdish-Iraqi extremist group Ansar al-Islam. “Be proud of being called terrorists,” Choudary told the Helsinki audience.
ANALYSIS: Despite their strong welfare policies and efforts to integrate immigrants, the Nordic countries are a major source of Syria-bound jihadists.
“A young Finn killed while fighting for the rebels”, “Several Norwegians fighting in Syria reportedly killed“, “Swedish jihadists killed in battles in Syria“, “11 Danes killed in Syria“, “20 Scandinavians may have been killed in Syria“.
Since the winter of 2012-2013, more and more headlines like these have appeared in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Danish newspapers. According to intelligence sources at least 75 people have left Sweden to take part in the Syrian civil war on the side of Salafi jihadist groups. From Denmark, Norway and Finland, the comparable numbers are 90, 40 and 30 respectively. That means at least 235 people have left the Nordic countries to fight in Syria – a considerable share of all the foreigners with European or Western passports taking part in the civil war.
Estimates of the total vary between 1,000 and 2,000, with the higher end of the range considered more credible. The Nordic share is remarkably high given the populations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland and the size of the Muslim diaspora in each country. In comparison, the British intelligence service MI5 has said there could be as many as 200 British fighters in Syria. The population of the United Kingdom is more than double that of all the Nordics put together, and the country is home to a number of high-profile radical Islamists who have stoked discontent. About an equal number of jihadist fighters is thought to have come from France, where an all-out ban on religious headwear in schools and riots in some immigrant-heavy suburbs of the capital have heightened tension between Muslim communities and the majority population. While tiny Belgium may have supplied forces in Syria with as many as 350 fighters, Norway, Sweden and Denmark all rank high on the list of jihadist-exporting countries, especially considering their populations.
This surprising fact can be seen as a challenge to common ideas about why extremist groups grow. Many foreign fighters who are recruited to take part in the Syrian civil war, largely in jihadist groups, come from countries where there is relatively little conflict between immigrants and the majority population, and where asylum seekers benefit from solid welfare systems.