The Radicals Among Us

Finland has an ongoing problem with Islamic radicalization in prisons, and political radicalization in society. A new report, and new outreach efforts in prisons are trying to tackle it.

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Finland has an ongoing problem with both Islamic radicalization in prison and political radicalization in society, according to a new official report, and interviews with experts working to combat the problems.

In Finnish prisons, access to the internet is limited. So radicalization can start with a book, or a CD. Or more commonly, it happens prisoner-to-prisoner, via charismatic individuals who radicalize others. And it’s having an effect.

In a new report, Finland’s Criminal Sanctions Agency RISE reveals there have been 84 prisoners with violent extremist sympathies or who support a radical Islamic agenda.

Forty-five of them are still in prison in Finland, while 39 have been released or removed from the country, according to the information produced following a year-long study.

It’s a problem that has only recently been addressed in Finland, despite it being a known issue in prisons in France, Germany or UK for a much longer time.

“Five or ten years ago the problem was smaller, there wasn’t Islamic radicalism at all back then, it is a new phenomenon”, RISE’s Inspector General of Security Ari Juuti tells News Now Finland.

“We realised just recently, because of these foreigners who came from Syria and Iraq and other Islamic countries. Of course we had before right wing or left wing radicals or skinheads, but it’s not such a big thing, only few, ten, 20 people. But now these Islamic radicals are many more”

Radicalized prisoners have cheered at news of terror attacks, and authorities suspect some murders of Muslim prisoners are due to religion-based troubles. They also share a positive attitude about terror attacks targeting people in the West.

The keys to tackling the problem, says Juuti, are education for officials, and integration for prisoners.

“Education and sharing the right information, adding knowledge about key issues around these types of prisoners, helping them leave radicalism behind” is important. “Learning the language and getting a job are vital to the integration process” for the prisoners themselves, he says.

New De-Radicalization Project

Since the end of last year, the prison service has been running a project in Vantaa prison, aimed at detecting early signs of radicalism among prisoners.

“We noticed that we can already make some observations” says Ari Juuti. “Project workers have been visiting prisons and talking to staff, training them to recognise the signs of radicalism. The project runs until the end of February next year, but the results are being used already to train and develop radicalization identification and prevention methods”

The Vantaa prison radicalism exit project is being spearheaded by Radinet, a nationwide initiative from Vuolle Setlementti, the Oulu-based non-profit organisation, which the Criminal Sanctions Agency RISE is also involved with.

Relgious & Political Extremism

Radinet’s main work however is done outside prisons where they report, in general, meeting an equal number of people who want help with getting out of a spiral towards Islamic radicalization, and far right political radicalism too.

“It’s 50-50” says Radinet’s Helsinki-based outreach worker Ousamma Yousfi. “But maybe now” after August’s Turku stabbing rampage “60 percent Islamic, and 40 percent political” he adds.

“I can say we have three types of clients. The first, they contact us through friends or family and they want a way to withdraw from violent extremist groups or ideology” explains Yousfi.

“Then there those who are guided to us by authorities, police, prison or social services. Some of them admit they have problems.”

“And the third type is only a consultation with people if they have questions about the issues. If they have been maybe victims of attempted recruiting, or some of their family members have left for some groups” he says.

So what happens if a far right extremist walks in to ask for help, and sees Algeria-born Ousamma Yousfi sitting behind the desk? Yousfi explains his colleague in Oulu could take care of that, if there’s a problem, but often people come for help because they want to change, and being more accepting of other people is part of that process.

Radinet’s typical client varies a lot. From recently arrived migrants to people who have been living in the country much longer; and of course native Finns radicalized on the far right.

“There are more men than women” says Yousfi.

“The age varies. The youngest client is 16. The oldest, 58”.