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AL QAEDA

Swedes recruited by Somali terror group

An al-Qaeda-linked extremist group in Somalia has recruited more than 20 young people from Sweden to fight in the war-torn African country, the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) fears.

Somali Islamic insurgency group Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (“Movement of Warrior Youth”), better known as Al-Shabaab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, is thought to have recruited dozens of Swedish youth to engage in terrorist acts, according to Göteborgs-Tidningen.

Gothenburg was identified by several sources as the largest recruitment base in the country, the report said. Sweden is also a fundraising hub for the group, according to Svenska Dagbladet editorial writer Per Gudmundson, who has written extensively about the issue.

“I think it’s a very serious threat because it’s not only a threat to Somalis in Somalia, it’s also a threat to Swedish security,” Gudmundson told The Local.

“People who go through wars and conflicts in war zones come back as trained operatives. We’ve had in Sweden people who’ve been trained in Afghanistan and come back as seasoned veterans. They are regarded with high esteem in jihadist terms and can motivate young people to fight. Also, when it comes to Swedish security, we are not immune to this. The Muhammad caricatures have shown places in northern Europe can be targets.”

At a mosque – a converted food hall – in Gothenburg’s Gamlestan quarter, a Danish-Somali man who tried to assassinate Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who drew the controversial Muhammad cartoon published in Jyllands-Posten, tried to recruit followers, according to a Danish newspaper.

“There are no supporters of al-Shabaab here,” mosque spokesman Abdi Fatah Shidane told Göteborgs-Tidningen.

Young men in Sweden are brainwashed, trained and recruited by terrorists on Somali terrorist movement al-Shabaab, according to an informant who spoke to the paper. One recruit was arrested in connection with death threats against Danish People’s Party leader Pia Kjærsgaard.

According to Säpo, al-Shabaab sympathisers across the country are concentrated in big cities and recruit young people here for war and terrorist acts, as well as raising money for the movement.

Inspector Per-Olof Hellqvist of Säpo in Gothenburg confirmed to Göteborgs-Tidningen that young men from the Gothenburg area have traveled to Somalia.

“However, we do not know what they are doing there,” he told the paper.

According to Gudmundson, the UN’s special group on the Horn of Africa made a report on recruitment and financing that singled out Sweden as a hub for both recruitment and financing.

“The jihadist problem is worse in Denmark, I don’t know why, but the Somali hub is bigger in Sweden,” he told The Local.

Swedish Integration and Gender Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni of the Liberal Party recently ordered Säpo to conduct a report on the scale of violence-prone religious radicalism in the country because the numbers are unclear. Gudmundson estimates about 1,500 people in Sweden would be labelled Islamists with hardcore tendencies, while about 100 to 200 would possibly engage in violence.

“These are not big figures, not many, but as we sadly know, just a handful is enough,” he told The Local. “To many, it’s a nationalistic thing. Young males are always prone. They have a different view of life.”

About 400,000 to 500,000 people in Sweden have roots in Muslim countries, he said.

“Mainly, Al-Shabab is a Somali phenomenon, but they attract young guys who are sympathetic to the global jihadist movement,” Gudmundson told The Local. “However, few want to travel to Somalia. It’s the armpit of the world.”

As for why Gothenburg is the hub for Al-Shabaab in Sweden, Gudmundson believes it is related to Somali clan immigration patterns, which are also evident in other Somali communities across the country.

In addition, Gothenburg is home to Al-Shabaab’s largest online community, alqimmah.net, which was established by a former Nazi who converted to Islam, with information mostly in Somali as well as Arabic and one sub-forum in English that picks up the newest translations, Gudmundson told The Local.

“Sweden isn’t good at integrating Somalis compared to the UK and US,” he said.

“We make a better living and it’s expensive to hire people in Sweden. Somalis are often not well educated and are not easy to hire. It’s very hard for the Somali community to get into the workforce.”

Gudmundson added he believes the situation is worsening in Somalia. “I know it sounds silly to say about a country that’s gone 18 years without a functional government, but now it’s even worse because now, not only does the small weak transitional government fight against one Islamic militia, it has to fight another and they also fight against each other. It’s everyone against everyone.”

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SWEDISH HISTORY

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer

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