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The Organisation Preventing Swedish Teens from Joining the Islamic State

SATA aims to change the minds of youths who are about to join extremist organisations. Last month, they managed to stop three kids who were on their way to Syria.

​Screengrab from ​The Islamic State. Photo by Medyan Dairieh

Last month, three Swedish teenagers were allegedly on their way to join the ​Islamic State. Luckily, their plans were interrupted only minutes before they were about to board a plane. So instead of flying from Umeå via Stockholm to Istanbul, where they were going to jump on a bus to Syria, the 16-year-old girl and the two 17-year-old boys were spotted and brought home to their – I'm guessing – outraged parents.


Local newspaper Västerbottens-Kuriren ​reported today that the three kids had travelled to Umeå airport on the 3rd of October. And here's a pretty disturbing detail: It wasn't the police that caught up on the kids. Actually, national security services, police, and parents all seem to have been unaware of the kids' plans to leave the country. Instead, it all came down to the good deeds by volunteers from anti-terror and support organisation ​SATA.

Umeå Airport. Photo by ​Mikael Lindmark

SATA is a non-profit organisation, which at the time of writing has 90 likes on ​Facebook. As a comparison: the ​Swedish Police have 146,500 likes. But what SATA lacks in online support, it seems to make up for in the real world. Their aim is to change the minds of youths who are about to join extremist organisations 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 radicalised-to-be teens.

"We are 60-70 people who are actively working with interfering and stopping radicalised youths from affiliating with militant organisations," 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."


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 public service 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 organisation. This puts Sweden on the top-five-list of ​European countries with most citizens per capita who are teaming up with Islamist groups.

With an increasing ​number of ​worrying reports related to Swedes ​fighting for the Islamic State, there's a growing ​concern that the Swedish government are making dangerous moves in attempts 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 organisations that are listed by the UN as terror organisations. The law, which is planned to come into force in the beginning of next year, is being ​criticised for potentially stigmatising 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.


WATCH – ​The Islamic State