terrorism charges

Prosecutor dropped Swedish case against Al Shabaab Swede

4:21 min

Two Swedish citizens are being held in a New York jail, charged with planning to commit terrorism as part of the Somali militia Al Shabaab.

Both men were known to the Swedish police - but a prosecutor dropped the case against one of these men just days before they were known to be arrested in Djibouti. Some say this is a very strange coincidence. 

In August last year three men were seized by forces from the east African country of Djibouti. Two of the men are Swedish citizens - and the Swedish authorities have known about both men for at least four years before they ended up in a Djibouti jail.

In an interview on Saturday the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bild, says that Sweden was not informed, when the USA then took the Swedes from Djibouti, in November.

But there has been involvement from the Swedish authorities before this.

One of the men had already been accused of being in an Al Shabaab video, making threats against the Swedish artist Lars Vilks. The man in the video addresses "that dog, Lars Vilks". The Swedish artist had caused controversy by drawing the Islamic prophet Mohammed as a dog. In the video, a man speaking in Swedish says that what awaits Vilks is beheading. And he draws his finger across his throat.

In 2010 prosecutor Agnetha Hilding Qvarnström decided to start a case against a Swedish citizen that she suspected was the man in the video. She is at the prosecutors' office that deals with security issues.

But she dropped this case, just days before the Swedish Foreign Ministry was told that the man she had wanted was held in Djibouti.

Prosecutor Agnetha Hilding Qvarnström says that she made this decision when she had just got back from holiday. And that she had no idea that the men were in Djibouti.

She adds that, even if she had known that the men were held in Djibouti, this would not have changed her decision, since the threats against Lars Vilks in the video would not justify the lengthy process of getting an extradition granted.

Prosecutor Qvarnström says she does know, that it looks like an unusual coincidence, that her case was abandoned just before the men were taken in Djibouti.

There are other questions remaining on the Swedish side. How much was the foreign ministry involved in the US operation to take the two men? Foreign Minister Carl Bildt says Sweden was not informed before the transfer to the USA.

But secret documents released to Swedish Radio show that just two days before the two men were taken to the USA, the Swedish embassy in Ethiopia got an urgent message from the foreign ministry, concerning the two, who were then held in Djibouti.

Did this message warn that the US was planning to take the men? We cannot say - because the message itself and the reply to it are still secret. So far no one from the foreign ministry has been available to answer Swedish Radio's questions about this sudden alert from Africa, and what it was about.

What we do know is that when the two men were taken to the USA, Swedish diplomats were not allowed to see them. We know from diplomatic papers that the Swedish consulate told the Americans that the two imprisoned Swedish citizens had the right to see embassy staff, and to be told that they had this right. Still, there was no visit until just before the FBI decided to go public with the case.

Defence lawyer Ephraim Savitt tells Radio Sweden that "No one was permitted to know about the existence of the case and the identity of the defendants", until the case was ready to be presented to the public.