The New York Times profiled the small town of Lisleby in Norway. However, it is not just any old small town. At least seven young men left the cozy town for Syria to join terrorist groups. Seven does not appear to be a large number, but it is for Lisleby, considering the town consists of only 6,000 residents.
The Times asked why it is that certain towns, and even small areas within them, generate a disproportionate number of jihadists?
Residents say they knew something was wrong when Torleif Sanchez Hammer and his friends stopped causing trouble. Ragnar Foss, head of a local police unit responsible for youth crime, said the officers “knew them all on a first-name basis.” But the young boys completely changed two years ago.
“We wondered what had happened, but were glad when they dropped off our radar,” claimed Foss.
The young men “had little in common, coming from different ethnic, socio-economic and religious backgrounds.” This led officials to believe “the most determining factor in their decisions to go to Syria was their influence on one another.”
Yousef Bartho Assidiq, a Norwegian who converted to Islam, visited the area numerous times “with members of Prophet’s Umma, a radical group from Oslo that openly supports the Islamic State.” He said soccer player Abdullah Chaib “was the central figure” and “everyone wanted to be” just like him.
Assidiq is no longer associated with Prophet’s Umma. He recently opened an organization to counter radicalization. He told the Times he was “really shocked” with Chaib’s attraction to jihad. He spoke to Assidiq many times “about jihad in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Syria.”
“He was a real fanatic,” he said. “He talked about jihad all the time.”
Chaib traveled to Syria in December 2012 to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). He died in January 2014. Supporters filled his Facebook page with sympathies after the media reported his death.
Trond Hugubakken, spokesman for Norway’s Police Security Service, said the officials decided to focus on people outside of the neighborhood. Officers noticed the Prophet’s Umma in Lisleby “when a Fredrikstad mother filed a complaint that activists from the group were pestering her mentally disturbed son, trying to persuade him to go to Syria.”
The Prophet’s Umma was founded in 2011 but did not receive attention until 2012. The group takes part in many demonstrations and praises terrorism. Notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary has admitted connections to the group. In June 2014, the group’s former spokesman called homosexuality “a nasty and cruel disease.” Norway refused Arslan Ubaydullah Maroof Hussain, the founder of Prophet’s Umma, a referee license due to his extremist views.
The police do not have proof the radical group influenced the boys, but all of them made several trips to Oslo. Members of the Prophet’s Umma attend “a number of mosques and meeting places” within Oslo. Hammer’s mother was thrilled Islam calmed her son, but she had no idea how bad it was until 2013:
In December 2013, Mr. Hammer informed his mother that he was going on vacation in Greece. “I have to take a vacation, Mama. I have no friends, no job, nothing,” his mother recalled him saying. He then disappeared, announcing several months later that he was in Syria. A photograph posted on Facebook showed him dressed in camouflage, his hair covered by a black bandanna, and carrying a gun.
No one knows if Hammer is still alive. Most of his friends are dead. Abu Edelbijev, a Chechen, left in August 2013. He told his family of his departure via text message: “Please do not try to find me. I made my choice.” He sent it while in Syria. He was killed in November 2014 during the fight in Kobane. His pregnant wife, 19-year-old Diana Ramazova from Dagestan, told his family of his death. They immediately planned to bring her to Norway to give birth.
She made it to Instanbul. On January 6, she blew herself up at the Tourism Police Station, “killing a police officer and her own unborn baby.” Authorities confirmed her identity on March 17 after her mother provided a DNA sample.
“When we compared biological samples taken from Turkey to the DNA samples of the suspect’s mother, it was proved that the bomber was identified as 19-year-old Diana Ramazova from Derbent town of the Republic of Dagestan,” explained forensic specialists.
In August, the government “announced that it is considering revoking citizenship from individuals taking part in terrorist activities and wars in the Middle East.” Intelligence officials believe 40 to 50 Norwegians joined radical Islamic groups in Syria and Iraq.
“We will turn over every stone to find the necessary measures to prevent radicalisation and extremism,” explained Solveig Horne, the minister of children and equality. “We will begin discussion about introducing regulations on revocation for any citizen causing serious damage to vital government interests or who has volunteered to serve in foreign military services.”