Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke has suggested that Swedes who left to fight for radical Islamist groups in the Middle East should be welcomed back and helped to integrate into society.
Ms. Kuhnke made the comments Sunday evening on the television programme Agenda which is transmitted by the Swedish state broadcaster SVT. The programme focused on the fact that some 300 Islamic radicals from Sweden had gone to the Middle East to fight for groups like Islamic State and around half of them had returned to Sweden.
“They need to be channelled back into our democratic society,” Kuhnke said. The minister added she and the government had no idea how many of the returnees were still radicalised versus how many left because they had become disillusioned with Islamist beliefs.
When asked how many radical Muslims were involved in deradicalisation programmes, she estimated between 10 to 30 people based on information given to her by various municipalities. “There are far too few. We have to work together much better,” she noted.
Kuhnke also could not confirm that those who had been through the programmes had been successfully deradicalised, saying the process could take a decade or more. “We can not say that we have succeeded because it’s been such a short time. It is only in 10-15 years we can say that they actually managed to leave these environments,” she said.
Many on social media criticised the minister’s comments including terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp who took to Twitter to note that at least two returning Swedish jihadists were involved with the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris in late 2015 and in Brussels in 2016.
Dessutom har TVÅ av våra IS-återvändare Osama Krayem Mohammed Belkaid varit delaktiga i terrorattackerna i Paris & Bryssel. #agenda
— Magnus Ranstorp (@MagnusRanstorp) March 12, 2017
“The interview speaks for itself. This is how ill-prepared we are to deal with returnees,” Ranstrop noted.
The Swedish attitude toward returning jihadists is seen as strange by many, as several municipalities have gone above and beyond to cater for returning fighters. In the medieval city of Lund, the government is considering a range of measures including debt forgiveness, driving lessons, and free housing in the name of integrating returning extremists.
Last week, another damning report showed the Swedish government had still been paying many Islamists through the generous Swedish welfare system whilst they were fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Ranstorp, who was one of the authors of the report, said the main problem was the Swedish government refusing to follow up on welfare claimants to check whether they were in the country or ensuring that someone else wasn’t collecting benefits on their behalf.
Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at firstname.lastname@example.org