Why case of ‘spy’ sent to Syria is causing headaches for Danish government

Spanish courts say Ahmed Samsam fought for Islamic State but from his prison cell he insists he worked undercover for Denmark's spy agencies -- which have left him high and dry.

Why case of 'spy' sent to Syria is causing headaches for Danish government
A 2020 file photo of Adam, a friend of Ahmed Samsam. Samsam is serving a prison sentence for joining Isis but he insists he worked undercover for Denmark's spy agencies. Photo: Asger Ladefoged/Ritzau Scanpix

The affair is increasingly embarrassing for Denmark’s intelligence services and the government has repeatedly rejected calls for an inquiry.

Samsam says he was working for Denmark’s secret service PET and military intelligence service FE in Syria in 2013 and 2014, spying on foreign jihadist fighters.

Several investigations by Danish media have backed him up, concluding the 34-year-old Dane of Syrian origin never joined IS.

But the two intelligence agencies have refused to say whether he was working for them.

Samsam, who has a long criminal record, travelled to Syria in 2012 of his own accord to fight the regime.

Danish authorities investigated him after his return but did not press any charges.

He was then sent to the war zone on several occasions with money and equipment provided by PET and later FE, according to Danish media outlets DR and Berlingske.

They based their reports on anonymous witnesses and money transfers wired to Samsam.

In 2017, threatened by Copenhagen thugs in a settling of scores unrelated to his trips to Syria, Samsam headed to Spain.

There, he was arrested by Spanish police, who were surprised to find pictures of him on Facebook posing with the IS flag.

Samsam was sentenced the following year to eight years in prison for having joined IS.

“When he was arrested in Spain in 2017 he was 100 percent sure that he was going to be helped by Danish authorities”, his lawyer in Denmark Erbil Kaya told AFP.

But the Danes never intervened.

“It’s very difficult to prove you’ve been an agent. It’s not like he has a payslip or employment contract”, said Kaya.

Samsam has been serving his sentence, since commuted to six years, in Denmark since 2020.

Last year, he filed a lawsuit against Denmark’s intelligence services to force them to acknowledge his role with them.

The case is due to be heard in August.

“It’s very rare to leave an agent to serve a long prison sentence”, Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and research director at the Swedish Defence University, told AFP.

He said the fact that Samsam was arrested in Spain may have complicated his situation.

In a case like this, “an intelligence service would prefer to sweep this under the rug”, Ranstorp said.

“These are things that can’t be exposed in court. Even if the agent is no longer of any use, he shouldn’t attract any attention.”

During last year’s election campaign, Danish politicians across the board said they wanted an official inquiry.

But the new left-right government in power since December has rejected it.

“To protect our open society and democracy, it is essential that nothing that concerns the intelligence services be revealed”, the justice ministry told AFP.

Samsam’s lawyer Kaya condemned the government’s stance as “incomprehensible”.

Samsam “has the impression that the authorities don’t want to help him and are doing everything to hide the truth, he added.

“The truth will be revealed one day and I think this case will be called our ‘Dreyfus affair'”, the lawyer said, referring to the French criminal justice scandal at the turn of the 20th century.

Samsam recently went on a one-week hunger strike from his prison cell to protest “the inhumane conditions of his imprisonment”.

In December, the two intelligence services said they never divulged the identity of informants “both for the sake of the sources themselves and for the services’ operations”.

Being an informant or agent does not grant immunity from conviction if illegal acts have been committed.

“Deny, deny, deny! That’s the golden rule for these services. They never reveal their sources or their methods”, said Ranstorp.

The case was “harmful to their reputation, but they’ll survive it”, he said.

Several Danish opposition parties are still calling for an investigative commission.

And like with any good spy story, a movie is in the works.

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Danish government split over repatriation of women and children from Syria

Only one of the three parties in Denmark’s coalition government has stated it wants to repatriate women with national connections to Denmark from Kurdish-run prison camps in Syria.

Danish government split over repatriation of women and children from Syria

The Moderate party, one of the junior parties in the coalition, wants Danish children to be repatriated from the al-Roj prison camp in northern Syria, even if it means their mothers are evacuated with them.

The other two parties, the Social Democrats and Liberals (Venstre), still oppose bringing the women back to Denmark.

The two latter parties have stated that they only want to evacuate the children and not the mothers, who are in the camps because they have been sympathisers of the Islamic State (Isis) terror group or spouses of Isis militants.

As such, the government is split over the question of whether to retrieve the five children and three mothers from the camp, where they have now been marooned for several years.

Human rights organisations have in the past expressed concerns over the conditions at the prison camps and Denmark has faced criticism for not evacuating children there who have connections to Denmark.


Current government policy does not evacuate children from the two camps without their mothers and will not evacuate mothers if their Danish citizenship has been revoked.

A recent headline case saw a mother from the camp win an appeal against a Danish immigration ministry decision to revoke her citizenship, meaning she now has the right to be evacuated. She was expected to be prosecuted by Denmark under terrorism laws on her return to the country.

Denmark’s Scandinavian neighbour Norway on Wednesday repatriated two sisters who went to Syria as teenagers as well as their three children, citing abysmal conditions in the camp where they were housed.

Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, leader of the Moderate party, said at a parliamentary committee hearing on Wednesday that the government will state its agreed position on the issue “soon”, news wire Ritzau reports.

“The government will make a decision on the government’s position on the basis of the updated government policy position. And I expect we will do that soon,” he said.

Rasmussen said in January that the government had asked the relevant authorities to provide up-to-date information related to the Danish children who remain in the camps.

That information is expected to form the “policy position” (beslutningsgrundlag) referred to by Rasmussen in his committee comments.