The Danger of Homegrown Terrorism to Scandinavia
by Lorenzo Vidino
October 19, 2006
The recent rounds of arrests in North America and in Europe highlight the changed face of jihadi terrorism in the West. The profile of the cells dismantled in Toronto and London this past summer confirms a trend that had become apparent after the November 2004 assassination of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam and the 7/7 London bombings: the majority of terrorist activities inside the West come from independent, homegrown networks. Composed mostly of extremely young, second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants in the West (with the notable addition of a growing number of converts), these spontaneous networks have only an ideological affiliation with al-Qaeda, while generally operating with virtually total autonomy. Although it is unlikely that these groups, given their relatively simple structures and often amateurish preparation, could carry out large operations, they are nevertheless dangerous. Their deep knowledge of Western cultures and languages, possession of Western passports and relative lack of overt ties to large terrorist organizations make their detection a difficult task for authorities. Their proven determination to strike their own countries, combined with the relatively easy access to explosive substances and weapons, makes them an immediate threat to the security of Western countries.
A region where this trend is particularly evident is Scandinavia. Denmark, Sweden and Norway have seen a limited presence of "traditional" organized terrorist groups since the beginning of the 1990s, with outfits such as the Algerian GSPC or the Egyptian Gama'a al-Islamiyya using the countries as convenient bases of logistical support for their activities in North Africa and the Middle East. While some of these groups are still operating today, the overwhelming majority of terrorist activities taking place in Scandinavia currently are carried out by homegrown networks.
In a security report released in September, PET, the Danish domestic intelligence agency, warned that the largest threat to Denmark, as in most European countries, comes from small, unsophisticated groups that are "inspired by al-Qaeda's global jihad ideology but can act autonomously and apparently without external control, support or planning" . PET's findings are corroborated by recent arrests in Denmark. On September 6, Danish police arrested nine suspects in the city of Odense, Denmark's third largest. According to authorities, the men had acquired material "to build explosives in connection with the preparation of a terror act." Although PET has revealed very few details about the alleged plot, the suspects are believed to be mostly young second-generation Muslim immigrants of various ethnic origins living in Vollsmose, a poor neighborhood of Odense.