Maja Suslin/TT.
Johan Sjöö, the acting chief of the Swedish Security Service, Säpo. Credit: Maja Suslin/TT.

Concerns that new terror laws won't have effect

2:15 min

Sweden's new anti-terror laws go into effect April 1. But while some are hopeful they will deter would-be jihadists, others say they have no teeth.

The rules will make it illegal to train for terrorist attacks and would ostensibly make it a crime to take, organize, or finance trips to other countries for the purpose of committing acts of terror. But Swedish Radio news reported that even supporters of the new laws believe it will be tough to win convictions with them. Prosecutors would need to prove that the purpose of a trip to Syria or Iraq was to commit a terrorist act, a difficult legal standard.

Johan Sjöö, the acting head of the Swedish Security Service, Säpo, described the legal hurdle.

"It isn't a crime to go down and join Isil. You also have to prove intent, and that will obviously be a difficulty. But that's something that will come to light when we try concrete cases. When does one cross the line?" said Sjöö in an interview with Swedish Radio.

Säpo knows of around 300 people that have traveled from Sweden to join up with al-Qaida-inspired groups, primarily in Syria and Iraq. Sjöö said the new anti-terror laws might at least help Säpo prevent individuals from taking new trips.

"That is to say that we would gather a degree of suspicion already before the departure, which means we can intervene and stop things. We can't actually do that today. Today we can only have voluntary talks," said Sjöö.

Agneta Hilding Qvarnström, who works with security cases from the Swedish Prosecution Authority, said it was difficult to know now what the laws would mean. But she said she hopes they will act as a deterrent.

"Hopefully, it has that effect, that it gets would-be travelers to rethink things, that this isn't legal, if you consider traveling with that purpose," she said.

But Thomas Olsson, a lawyer with a long history of terror cases, was more critical of the new laws.

"I think there will be very few cases, and the cases will be difficult to try," he said.

And Olsson dismissed the idea that the laws could act as a deterrent.

"Prohibiting a person to travel for the purpose of committing terrorism or terrorist acts, that's about as logical as forbidding a bank robber to take a car to the bank. If you motivated, I don't think the trip to reach your goal is the thing that will make you refrain from committing a criminal act," said Olsson.

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