Danish mayor shares anti-radicalization tips with Sweden

8:48 min

It has produced more foreign fighters per capita than anywhere else in the world, but Denmark is still ahead of Sweden when it comes to countering violent extremism on home soil, according to terror expert Magnus Ranstorp. 

"We've barely even started, while they are almost at university level. I work with all authorities in Copenhagen, including the police and the security police. The authorities concerned there are all working together in a completely different way, which does not occur in Sweden," Magnus Ranstorp tells Radio Sweden.

The terrorism researcher at the Swedish National Defence College has been part of an expert group in Copenhagen which is working towards presenting an action plan in the summer to counter violent Islamist extremists.

Denmark's second largest city of Århus has had its own programme of countering violent extremism since 2007, in response to the London and Madrid bombings.

The programme uses "SSP"- schools, social services and the police - and identifies people in the city who are at risk of being radicalized. A group of mentors, who have been specially trained, work with the predominantly young, Muslim men, to steer them back to mainstream society. The work is preventive but also tackles fighters who have returned from Syria and Iraq.  

The city's Social Democrat Mayor, Jacob Bundsgaard, was in Stockholm on Thursday to talk about the successful Århus model. He told Radio Sweden that they have managed to cut the numbers of people leaving Denmark to fight abroad.

"In 2013, 31 people left Århus to go to Syria, in 2014 that figure had dropped to just one, and we have had two people leave this year," Jacob Bundsgaard tells Radio Sweden.

The city's work in caring for fighters returning from Syria has been cricticised in Denmark, as being "naive", and "dangerous" and too soft on people who should be locked up, but Jacob Bundsgaard tells Radio Sweden that leaving the returning jihadists alone is far more dangerous.

"What is dangerous is if we don't do this. And if we don't do anything to counter this radicalisation then we will have a generation of young people that has been left alone. You cannot legislate your way out of this. You cannot make tougher sentences or criminalise more people. These are young people that when they become radicalised are willing to give their life for what they believe in, so you need to make early prevention and intervention."

Eight years after Århus began its programme, municipalities in Sweden are preparing action plans for local work against extremism. The city of Gothenburg was recently the first Swedish municipality to introduce two coordinators against violent extremism.