Terrorism case worries Finnish Somali community
By Irina Vähäsarja
Helsingin Sanomat, October 1, 2011
When the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) revealed two weeks ago Friday that it had started an investigation into suspicions of financing terrorism and recruiting for terrorist activities, many people of Somali background in Finland knew that something was going on.
After the arrest of the suspects, there was talk that nobody had heard about a Somali woman living in Vantaa for several days. The wildest rumour was that she had been killed.
A question to police revealed what was happening. After that, word started spreading.
In the two weeks that followed, there has been much talk in the Somali community: in schools, cafes, mosques, and on the street. Confusion and concern are sparked by both the suspicions of crime, as well as how it might affect the attitudes of the majority population.
A study by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights two years ago revealed that Finland’s Somali community experiences more threats, violence, or serious harassment than any other minority in Europe.
News about suspected crime certainly does not ease the situation, even though the Finnish Somali League, for instance, has publicly denounced terrorism.
“On the streets and in the metro people have been called terrorists”, says Abdirahim Hussein, a Centre Party politician from Helsinki. “Many have told me.”
In addition to direct threats, Somalis fear that getting a job might become more difficult if suspicions increase.
People are also more cautious about sending remittances of money to Somalia. Some people wonder if just anyone might end up on a list of terror suspects if relatives have formed excessively close ties with the rebels.
“Not everyone in Finland knows what their relatives think about al-Shabaab, or ask what the money is used for”, Abdirahim Hussein says.
There is also no certainty about how many Somalis living in Finland actually support al-Shabaab. The issue is generally not discussed in public, as supporting the Islamist organisation is not allowed.
It is know that for some al-Shabaab is still seen as a liberation movement rather than a terrorist organisation. However, the support base is not believed to be very wide.
“It is on the decline, but undoubtedly there are those who sympathise”, says former Somali League chairman Said Aden, who now works as a project coordinator for the Finnish Ministry of the Interior.
He believes that many of the movement’s supporters who live outside Somalia have a naive image of what the organisation does; al-Shabaab’s iron grip on power where it is in control can create the impression that life is safe in those areas.
In Somalia the situation is seen differently. Tuomas Portaankorva, chief inspector at SUPO, says that he believes that local support for al-Shabaab has decreased recently, because the organisation has prevented aid agencies from operating in its territory, and has committed severe acts of violence.
Although suspicions of terrorism are extremely unpleasant from the point of view of the Somali community in Finland, many feel that a thorough airing of the matter within the community could also have some benefits.
At least the investigation can serve as a warning that maintaining contact with extremist movements can lead to problems in Finland.