The head of Sweden’s Security Service has told a television network that the country was experiencing a rapid rise in numbers heading to Iraq and Syria to fight for Islamic State.
Anders Thornberg who heads Säpo, told STV to suggest some girls are being forced to travel to the war torn region and spoke of the need to “pull together all the forces in society” to try prevent more young people from signing up to the Islamic State.
He suggested up to 300 Swedish nationals had travelled to countries including Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, according to The Local news website.
But Mr Thornberg said the worrying situation wasn’t just limited to Sweden.
“It’s an explosive development” he said in an interview with the Agenda programme. “When I talk to my colleagues on the other security services in Europe and around the world we see the same trend.”
The Scandinavian country is taking the problem seriously: in the summer they appointed a national coordinator against violent extremism, former leader of the Social Democrat party Mona Sahlin.
She will be attempting to improve cooperation between local authorities and government agencies and developing a programme to allow vulnerable youngsters to resist any appeal which religious extremism might hold.
And she said that while some young people did volunteer to fight for the terrorist group in the Middle East, others, especially girls, are “forced” or “trafficked” to the areas. She explained that she had spoken to parents of those who had left their homes to fight and they suggested their children did not leave voluntarily.
“I hope that cases of trafficking come to light that can be investigated” she said, adding that many joined up because they were following a “dream” to “become something” that turned out to be “a very different reality”.
Ms Sahlin spoke out against Muslim groups in Sweden which she accused of not doing enough to stop young people leaving their homes and travelling to fight.
But the chairman of an Islamic association in Stockholm, Ibrahim Boutaleh, insisted that Muslim organisations in Sweden are working hard to stop people being radicalised.
“We’ve been looking into different models that appear to be working in both Denmark and the UK, where social services and police work together to support families affected” he said. “They work in advance, educating parents so they can spot the signs before it’s too late.”
Yesterday we reported how French security workers had been requesting secondments to the UK services who have the best track record in de-radicalising fundamentalist fighters.