Salafist Scare in Sweden as Report Points to Avalanche Growth of Radical Islam
The number of Islamist extremists in Sweden has risen tenfold, the Swedish Defense College wrote in a new report on the Islamist threat commissioned by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). The report was called "one of a kind" as it mapped out the jihadist environment in Sweden and its methods of influence.
According to the report, named "Between Salafism and Salafic Jihadism," the number of Islamist extremists has grown tenfold over the past decade.
In less than a decade, Sweden's extreme Islamist environment has grown from 200 members to 2,000, with Salafism playing a vital role in the spread of violent Islamism in a number of Swedish cities, including Gothenburg.
In the report, Salafism is described as a literal interpretation of Sunni Islam and an anti-democratic ideology with a demand for total submission to God's will.
Senior terrorist researcher Magnus Ranstorp stressed the previous lack of studies on the Salafist-jihadist ideology in Sweden, emphasizing that Salafist missionaries are proactive in social media, using websites such as YouTube and Facebook to reach out to new audiences.
"Salafism has in some cases proved to be the foundation of jihadi extremism. All Salafists are not jihadists, but all jihadists are Salafists," the report said, estimating that the Salafist propaganda has spurred more Swedish citizens into joining various jihadist movements, predominantly in the Middle East.
The Defense College highlighted the extensive support to the jihadist cause in, for example, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, as well as the terrorist attacks that happened in Stockholm in 2010 and 2017, as the most notable events linked to the Salafists.
At the same time, many things have been happening below the public radar, the report indicated. According to the report, Islamist imams have divided the country geographically to try and influence Muslims based on their interpretation of Islam. Hateful messages about women, gays, Jews and non-believers are said to be recurrent themes in the imams' sermons, as is the importance of not integrating into Swedish society. Particular hatred is said to be directed against the Shia branch of Islam, which the Salafists describe as "invented by Jews in order to undermine the Muslim community from within."
Early indoctrination was identified as one of the key methods enabling the spread of the extremist ideology.
"Salafists believe that an important and decisive step towards building a proper Islamic character is early education efforts in the Quranic schools and the lower secondary school," the report said, urging the authorities to pay closer attention to this practice.
In conclusion, Salafist propaganda was said to be going stronger in Sweden's "exclusion areas" and was primarily aimed at fellow Muslims, especially women and young people.
The exact number of Muslims in Sweden is a matter for debate due to the absence of religion-based statistics. A 2017 Pew report, however, estimated the proportion of Muslims at 8.1 percent of Sweden's population of 10 million — which is the highest percentage in Scandinavia and one of the highest in the entire EU.