Ten subway stops from downtown Stockholm is “little Mogadishu,” a drab suburb of the Swedish capital where radical Islamists are said to be recruiting the sons of Somali immigrants for jihad in the Horn of Africa.
Police and residents say about 20 have joined al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group waging a bloody insurgency against Somalia’s government, and many of them came from the suburb of Rinkeby–the heart of Sweden’s Somali community. According to SAPO, the Swedish state security police, five of them have been killed and 10 are still at large in Somalia.
The issue has gained notice at a time of worsening fears of Islamic radicalism in the Scandinavian countries, home to more than 40,000 Somalis who have fled their war-ravaged homeland. These fears sharpened with the Jan. 1 attack by a Somali immigrant in Denmark on a cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.
“It’s a small group but they have power,” said Abadirh Abdi Hussein, a 25-year-old hip-hop artist and “110-percent Muslim” who has become the best known Somali in Rinkeby because of his campaign to counter al-Shabab’s influence. “People don’t speak up against them. They don’t dare.”
In Sweden, police say they can do little to stop them leaving for Somalia unless they can prove that they are conspiring to commit terrorism. Unlike the U.S., Sweden has not put al-Shabab on any terrorism list.
Experts say the Somali community is especially vulnerable to extremist influence because it’s the least integrated immigrant group in Scandinavia. Since the 1990s, more than 25,000 have come to Sweden, 17,000 to Norway and about 10,000 to Denmark.
Denmark’s intelligence service says the ax-wielding man who was shot and wounded by Danish police after breaking into cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s home was an al-Shabab-linked Somali with a Danish residence permit. In December a Danish man of Somali descent killed 24 people in a suicide bombing in Mogadishu.
Somali community leaders in Scandinavia say support for al-Shabab has dropped in recent years as people have become aware of its increasingly violent tactics and extreme fundamentalism.
Still, the Somali National Organization in Sweden, an umbrella group, has invited government leaders to address Somalis about how to steer youth away from the extremists.
Sweden’s center-right government announced last week that it will study how local authorities here and elsewhere in Europe are tackling extremism.
Integration Minister Nyamko Sabuni, herself an immigrant from Burundi, acknowledged the problem has been poorly understood in Sweden. “Local officials and politicians working in these areas don’t always have the knowledge needed,” she told AP.