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Brussels attacks: The Swedish connection

Belgium and Sweden are two EU member states from which hundreds of jihadists have left to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. As already reported, one of the terrorists involved in the terror cell which planned the Brussels attacks had connections with Sweden.

Mohammed Belkaïd, who was shot dead by police at a raid on an apartment in Forest last week, had been living in Sweden and had been married to a Swedish woman.

He was found in the company of Najim Laachraoui and Salah Abdeslam at a check-post at the Austrian-Hungarian border in the beginning of September last year. Laachraoui used a false identity and is still sought by the Belgian police.

Abdeslam was captured last Friday and it was possibly his arrest that triggered the terror attacks on Tuesday which anyway were underway.

Swedish terrorism expert Hans Brun said to Expressen that this comes as no surprise. “I think that this is something that we’ll see repeated during this year. Persons who are connected to the terror networks and who have residence permits in Sweden.”

Sweden’s leading daily Dagens Nyheter reported yesterday (23 March) that Belkaïd had been living as a petty criminal in Stockholm for four years until he left the country at the end of 2013.

The first trace about him in Sweden is from January 2009 when he received a temporary residence permit because of links to relatives in Sweden. After that he was caught for theft, he was sentenced to 2 months in prison. By the end of 2010 he had become a “known pocket thief”.

His stepson describes him as “religious but far from fanatic”. The lawyer who defended him during 2013 did not note any signs of radicalization.

He is still registered at an address in Märsta north of Stockholm. “He just left without saying anything,” his step son told the newspaper.

The newspaper contacted the Swedish security police but they refused to comment on the case.

International New York Times reported today (24 March) that as of last month 441 persons have left Belgium to join the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria – this according to data from the Belgium Ministry of Justice. 117 of them have returned to Belgium.

The number of jihadists from Sweden is estimated to about 300.

Altogether some 5000 EU citizens are known to have travelled to join the Islamic State. According to the EU counter-terrorism coordinator, the Europol database contains information about only half of them.

The Brussels Times