Stockholm’s new counter-terrorism strategy under fire

3:32 min

Speaking to Radio Sweden, the City of Stockholm defends its new strategy for combatting violent extremism, after having been accused of being “soft on terrorists”.

Among other things, the strategy, presented Tuesday, aims to prevent terrorist recruitment and to help returning fighters reintegrate into Swedish society.

Those who return from fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and elsewhere will be offered support from state institutions, voluntary organisations and religious associations.

The strategy, published by the Social Democrat-, Green Party- and Feminist Initiative-led Social Welfare Board in Stockholm, has come under fire, with critics from the centre-right opposition saying it is "watered down" and "politically correct". Critics also accuse the City of Stockholm of treating those who join IS with kid gloves.

Speaking to Radio Sweden, Rana Carlstedt - a Social Democrat member of the Social Welfare Board - said she disagrees with the criticism. "I think we've done our best to come up with a programme that combines the efforts of social services, educational services and employment services," she said. "I think we're headed down the right path."

Carlstedt said that whether returning jihadists should receive support or punishment is "up to the police". She said: "We have an entire legal system dealing with alleged crimes. If those can be proven, then the offenders should of course be punished... But the City of Stockholm has a social responsibility to prevent recruitment and of course to help citizens back to our society, unless crimes can be proven."

The Green Party’s Eva Larsson – acting commissioner of social services in Stockholm – told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet: “The aim is to get all forces for good to collaborate and to develop democracy in our society. We can never ever accept political acts that run counter to the basic rules of democracy.”

The idea is that different city districts and other actors should collaborate to a greater extent than they do today, including when it comes to how to deal with returning jihadists.

”They leave but they will also return. Some do come back, while some are killed,” said Larsson. “So, the social authorities must be aware of that and they must have a strategy in place. For instance, we must support the individual’s family.”

“We have a whole tool kit today that needs to be coordinated to ensure that we create a dense web for helping people so that they don’t go away and join wars or become neo-Nazis,” Larsson said.

The strategy identifies three strands of violent extremism in Sweden: the autonomous Left, white-power movements, and radical Islamism. It says any counter-terrorism effort must be "strategically developed" and that it must include a "gender perspective".

A special edition of Radio Sweden, looking at Sweden's efforts to combat radicalisation in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, is available here.