UPDATED: Police and community activists are warning that increasing numbers of Norwegian youth, mostly from immigrant families, are the targets of radical Islamists who are recruiting them for holy war. Three of Norway’s new government ministers planned to meet on Tuesday afternoon, to discuss ways of preventing the recruitment.
Meanwhile, as the state is being asked to help find two teenage sisters who headed for Syria, they’ve reportedly told their father to give up his own search for them along the Turkish border and go home.
Their Somalian-Norwegian father has been on a highly publicized quest the past week to find his two daughters, among the latest Norwegian muslims to secretly leave the country “to help other muslims” in the Middle East. They posted a message via social media after their departure that they planned to take part in the civil war in Syria.
Conflicting versions of events
Their father then took off after them, but quickly complained that he “felt completely alone” in his quest along the Turkish border to Syria and needed more support from Norwegian authorities. Attorney Geir Lippestad, best known for defending Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik last year, then offered his services and contacted Norway’s foreign ministry.
The father has claimed his daughters “regretted what they had done” and were being held in Syria against their will. Lippestad also asked for more help from the Norwegian government on the family’s behalf. A ministry spokesman said the government had “a good dialogue” with Lippestad and agreed that he could contact Norway’s embassy in Ankara if the need arises.
Norwegian police, however, have said they had no confirmation that the girls were being held against their will, and newspaper VG reported a completely different version of events. VG cited another family member who said the sisters didn’t want to return to Norway and had asked their father to stop looking for them.
Answering the call of recruiters
The sisters’ odyssey is the latest example of young people who have grown up in Norway but answer the call of jihadist recruiters. Hassan Ali Omar, a community activist who leads an organization and website for Somalians in Norway, said that many are recruited over Facebook and YouTube, social media sites actively used by extreme Islamists in southeast Norway.
Another young Somalian-Norwegian, for example, is believed to be among the terrorists who attacked a shopping center in Nairobi, and many others have set off for Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past year.
“Norwegian authorities have been asleep, they’ve closed their eyes to this serious situation,” Ali Omar told newspaper Aftenposten. The authorities don’t agree, with police intelligence unit PST revealing last week that they had been watching the young man from Larvik who’s believed to have died in the Nairobi attack, and had “several conversations” with him before he left the country.
Appeals for preventive measures
Others claim the youngsters’ parents are the one who’ve been “asleep,” and haven’t kept track of their teenagers’ activities or increasing tendency to become radical. Several religious leaders are now increasing their own efforts to prevent recruitment, especially at mosques serving the Somalian community. “Stop recruiting our children,” was the message Mohamed Bahdon Osman of the Tawfiiq Islamic Center gave Aftenposten over the weekend.
Other members of the Muslim community in Oslo have appealed for a “concrete plan” from the government to prevent radicalization and extremism. Shoaib Sultan, Linda Alzaghari and Yousef Bartho Assidiq wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen that a justice ministry plan from 2010 is outdated, and they want coordination between the state, muslim organizations, mosques, research institutions and volunteer groups, for example, to “use all their resources” to fend off the recruiters.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg has said she intends to have such a plan ready in the course of next year. New Justice Minister Anders Anundsen was organizing a meeting on Tuesday to start forming strategy on means of preventing radicalization and recruitment of youth in Norway to extremist organizations.
Anundsen was to be joined by new Labour Minister Robert Eriksson, Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Health Minister Bent Høie and the minister in charge of family, equality and inclusion issues, Solveig Horne. Several state secretaries were taking part as well, including Laila Bokhari from Solberg’s office.