The Swedish domestic intelligence agency has warned the Swedish public that despite there being fewer people travelling abroad to fight for groups like Islamic state, the number of radical Islamist sympathisers is on the rise.
Anders Thornberg, Director General of the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), said there are fewer Swedish nationals who are travelling to Syria or Iraq to fight for extremists groups; but those who are returning are sharing their ideology and recruiting Islamists within Sweden.
“We see that there are individuals who come home who contact young people. There is a kind of logistics – a network in Sweden to try to encourage younger and new members to join the cause. It goes on all the time,” he said in an interview with Swedish broadcaster Sveriges Radio.
Over the past few years, the SAPO estimates around 300 individuals from Sweden have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join groups like the al-Nusra Front or Islamic State. Around half of them have already returned to Sweden and the SAPO says that the number of fresh people leaving has substantially fallen over the last year.
Many in Sweden were outraged when one Swedish city decided to give returning jihadists multiple benefits including free housing, drivers lessons, and debt forgiveness.
In one particular case, a known Islamic State sympathiser was paid more than £4,300 in welfare payments by the Swedish government while he was fighting for Islamic State in Aleppo, Syria.
“There are more and more people that we need have knowledge of,” Thornberg said claiming that the number of domestic sympathisers was rising and many of them are unknown because they have not yet committed any crimes.
“There are individuals who collect money, who quietly sympathise and are involved in various ways but then it is a lot of rhetoric. It’s not forbidden to talk about things; it’s only when you commit a crime as it gets serious,” he said.
Support for groups like Islamic State has also been seen in some of the highest levels of the Swedish government. In 2015, one of the county’s top immigration officials Samiyah M. Wasame said that joining Islamic State was a “beautiful” decision in one case.
An editor for a major Swedish newspaper also came under fire after saying he would rather see Sweden “filled” with Islamic State soldiers if it meant being able to get rid of anti-mass migration right-wing voters.
Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at firstname.lastname@example.org