The National Defense University (NDU), in conjunction with the Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA), has released a new document from a project that reveals another scary thing about the Islamic State. Many of the ISIS fighters coming from Sweden are not only still enrolled in Swedish welfare, but they are using the money to fund projects and missions for the terrorist group.
As reported by Swedish media outlet, Sveriges Television (SVT), around 300 militants are using other Swedish residents to transfer the money to them in their camps. The fighters are claiming to still live in Sweden, when in reality they are in Syria or Iraq fighting alongside other radical Islamists. They each have connections within Swedish borders to collect the money on their behalf and send it to them via wire or money transfer.
The Islamists in the report have traveled from Sweden to the Middle East between 2013 and 2016 in response to the Islamic State’s international recruiting efforts. These fighters are suspected to have fought for other terrorist groups as well, with ISIS being the most prominent.
Many of the ISIS fighters are using programs like housing assistance, child support, student loans and parental benefits to fund their missions. Magnus Ranstorp, one of the main surveyors and authors from the project, says, “It’s not big money, they do not get rich on it, but it can go a long way in a conflict zone.”
Student loans seem to be the bigger issues, according to the NDU report. These loans are among the easiest to get because the fighters can easily falsify documents and pose as students who are traveling overseas to study. These also have the highest payout of all of the government assistance offered by Sweden.
In the past, there has only been one high-profile case in which someone was proven to have used money from the Swedish welfare system to help fund a jihadist organization. In late 2016, Michael Skråmo, a Muslim convert, was paid around $5,300 by using the government since leaving the country for Syria.
Skråmo, his wife, and their 4 young children left Sweden for Syria in August 2014, not long after he converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul Samad al Swedi. He has also been in a series of propaganda videos, sometimes alongside his children, brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
The family, even after leaving Sweden, continued to collect their assistance from the government in the amount of $766 per month. For reference, a small family home in Gothenburg, where the family lived, goes for around $1,600 per month. The assistance they received paid almost half of their rent.
The government finally suspended the family’s welfare after a long delay. According to the Swedish publication Göteborgs Tidning (GT), it took over a year for the government organization, known as Försäkringskassan, to catch on. After the family was found to have not been living in Sweden, and receiving the funds illegally, it still took nearly seven more months to halt the money.
Försäkringskassan sent a letter to Skråmo’s home, detailing their reasons for discontinuing the funds.
“Försäkringskassan has stopped payments of child benefits and housing benefits for your children,” read the letter, as reported in GT. Skråmo’s wife then responded to the letter with a sarcastic tone.
Mrs. Skråmo wrote in an email to the authorities at Försäkringskassan: “To make it simple for you, you don’t need to send more papers to me. I am not in Sweden and am probably never in my life going to come back… so for your own sake, can you just drop it all ;).”
Ranstorp, referring to Skråmo’s crime, says, “It exposes how weak the system seems to be in its control mechanisms. Michael Skråmo has been one of the most well-known IS sympathizers for quite some time.” He also adds, “Police should be able to somehow sound the alarm and inform all the authorities when someone has journeyed down there.”
According to Ranstorp, Sweden isn’t alone. He also says the countries that are being used are at fault as well for not watching their welfare programs more closely. He claims, “it was not surprising, we have seen the same pattern in other countries. Most surprising was that almost all had it in some form. But it is the monitoring that needs to work better. The problem is that there is too little follow-up.”
In Belgium, it was found that many of the terrorists that took part in the Brussels and Paris attacks in 2015 and 2016 were using funds from the Belgian welfare system. Philippe de Koster, director of the Belgian agency that fights terrorism, has said that the country is working to find better ways to catch these welfare abusers and terrorists before it’s too late.
In France, there has been a huge effort to cut funding to citizens who have left the country to join jihadist organizations. “It’s the critical terror financing issue of the day,” said Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “Security services are focusing on lone actors, small cells and inspired or directed individuals operating in European countries, and of course the issue of (Islamic State) returnees.” France is also the main source of Western fighters in Syria and Iraq. In May 2016, the number was above 2,200 in total.
In Britain, Anouar Haddouchi, a British citizen, used the country’s welfare assistance program well after he moved to Syria upon joining ISIS. A government council in the region he lived in said they erroneously gave him over $7,000 while he was no longer living in the country. “Britain is just not up to speed with this,” warned Anthony Glees, who runs the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham. “One can assume that people who want to blow us up are entirely relaxed about taking as much money as they can from the British government.”
With the increase in measures being taken to try and avoid these situations, as well as the number of ISIS fighters still in Iraq and Syria dropping drastically, we can hope that a resolution will come soon. The problem, however, is that even if ISIS falters, there have now been kinks exposed in these countries’ welfare systems. They will need to act quickly before this abuse continues to grow.