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The Fight to Stop Swedish Teens from Joining the Islamic State

Last month, three teenagers were stopped at Umeå Airport by volunteers from the nonprofit organization SATA. The teens were allegedly on their way to Syria.
November 25, 2014, 3:30pm

​ ​Screengrab from  ​The Islamic S​tate. Photo by Medyan Dairieh

This post originally appeared in VICE Benelux

Last month, three Swedish teenagers tried to make their way to Syria to allegedly join the ​Islamic Sta​te. Their plan was to fly from the town of Umeå—where they are from—to Stockholm and from there to Istanbul, where they were going to jump on a bus to Syria. But that plan failed when the 16-year-old girl and the two 17-year-old boys were spotted by volunteers of anti-terror organization SATA and brought home to their—I'm guessing—outraged parents.


It's a little worrying to me, as a Swedish citizen, that the kids weren't caught by police or airport security forces but a nonprofit organization, which at the time of writing has 90 likes on Facebook. On the other hand, what SATA lacks in online support, it seems to make up for in enthusiasm. Their aim is to change the minds of young people who are on the verge of joining extremist organizations through workshops and talks. Another of SATA's methods—apparently proven successful—is to send volunteers to airports. There, they pretend to be on their way abroad, while actually being on the lookout for suspected radicalized teens.

"We are 60–70 people who are actively working with interfering and stopping radicalized youths from affiliating with militant organizations," chairman of SATA, Mohamed Artan,    told newspaper Dagens Nyheter. "[Our volunteers] spotted the three youths [in Umeå] and suspected that something was wrong. They chatted with them and figured that they were going to Turkey and eventually to Syria."

​ Umeå Airport. Photo by ​Mikael Lindmark

​News about the three teenagers is currently spreading across Sweden. The reports are coming a couple of days after an ​announcement from the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) that 100 Swedish citizens are confirmed to have left the country to fight for the Islamic State.

On Saturday, SÄPO chief Anders Thornberg told  ​Swedish Radio radio that 150 unconfirmed cases of emigrated Swedes are believed to be fighting for the Islamic State—on top of the already verified 100. SÄPO estimates that there are "as many as 250–300" Swedes who have joined the organization. This means that, per capita, ​Sweden is among the top five European countries with citizens teaming up with Islamist groups.

With the increasing  ​number of  reports related to Swedes ​fighting for the Islamic State, there's a growing ​concern that the Swedish government is making dangerous moves in their attempt to control the situation. Sweden's Minister of Justice, Morgan Johansson, is currently ​trying to enforce a law that will make it criminal to participate in organizations that are listed by the UN as terror organizations. The law, which is planned to come into force in the beginning of next year, is currently being ​criticized for potentially stigmatizing Muslims.

Whether the law will be executed is still yet to be seen. In the meantime, let's hope Sweden's security services pick up on SATA's methods to prevent kids from leaving peace for war. Because I'm not so sure that 70 volunteers are able to keep up with the rising  ​estimate of unknown cases of Swedes looking to join Islamist groups abroad.

Follow Caisa Ederyd on ​Twitter.