Denmark attack ‘echo’ of Syria unrest: Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned about a growing danger from ‘Scandinavian’ Islamist extremists in his country and said the shootings in Paris and Copenhagen were repercussions of what is happening in his country.

Denmark attack 'echo' of Syria unrest: Assad
Bashar al-Assad. Photo: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr/WikiCommons
According to Bashar al-Assad, “Scandinavian” members of Isis are pose a major threat in Syria.
“When you look at Sweden as part of Europe, or part of the Scandinavian group of European countries, you have to take into consideration that the most dangerous leaders of Daesh or Isis in our region are Scandinavian,” he told Swedish newspaper Expressen in an English-language interview
When Expressen questioned al-Assad’s claim about Scandinavians, the Syrian leader said “we have this information”.
The Syrian president told the Swedish outlet that Scandinavian countries cannot escape the “global” issue of terror and that "it doesn’t take a genius” to understand that the unrest in Syria played a key role in the terror attacks in Copenhagen and Paris. 
“Everything that has happened in Europe, and I mean terrorist attacks, we warned about from the very beginning of the crisis. Syria is a fault line and when you mess with this fault line you will have echoes and repercussions in other areas. Not only in our area, but in Europe,” he said. 
“Terrorism is not a domestic issue, it’s not even regional, it’s global,” the president also noted.
The Expressen interview was published days after the EU’s justice commissioner estimated that the number of Europeans fighting with jihadist groups in Syria could exceed 6,000.
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) estimates that at least 115 Danes have left for Syria. That puts Denmark second only to Belgium in the number of foreign fighters per capita that have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq. Around 50 jihadists are now thought to be back in Denmark.    
The flow of jihadists from Denmark to Syria and Iraq slowed significantly in 2014 compared to the year before, recent numbers from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) revealed.
But just last week it emerged that the Danish National Police confiscated the passport of a 23-year-old man from Copenhagen who was thought to be on his way to Syria. That marked the first time that new anti-terror measures were used to stop a suspected foreign fighter from leaving the country. 
More than 215, 000 people have been killed in Syria's four-year war, which is increasingly dominated by jihadist groups.
When Expressen asked President Assad about his army losing control of vast areas to Isis, he said: “You have ups and down, you have wins you have losses and that depends on many criteria”.
“We are still running the country,” he insisted.
More than 11 million Syrian have been forced from their homes since 2011, when pro-democracy protests against President Assad's government erupted and the country slid into civil war.

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‘I can’t go back’: Syrian refugees in Denmark face limbo after status revoked

Bilal Alkale's family is among the hundred or so Syrian refugees in Denmark whose lives are on hold amid an insufferable legal limbo -- their temporary residency permits have been revoked but they can't be deported. Now, they have no rights.

Syrian refugee Bilal Alkale and his daughter Rawan at their home in Lundby, Denmark on November 17th 2021. 
Syrian refugee Bilal Alkale and his daughter Rawan at their home in Lundby, Denmark on November 17th 2021. Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

Alkale, who until recently ran his own small transportation company in Denmark, found out in March he wasn’t allowed to stay in the Scandinavian country where he has lived as a refugee since 2014, as Copenhagen now considers it safe for Syrians to return to Damascus.

His wife and three of his four children were also affected by the decision taken by Danish authorities.

Once the ruling was confirmed on appeal in late September — like 40 percent of some 200 other cases examined so far — Alkale and his family were ordered to leave.

READ ALSO: Danish refugee board overturns decisions to send home Syrians

They were told that if they didn’t go voluntarily, they would be placed in a detention centre.

The family has refused to leave.

Normally they would have been deported by now, but since Copenhagen has no diplomatic relations with Damascus, they can’t be. And so they wait.

Days and weeks go by without any news from the authorities.

In the meantime, the family has been stripped of their rights in Denmark.

Alkale can’t sleep, his eyes riveted on his phone as he keeps checking his messages.

“What will become of me now?” the 51-year-old asks.

“Everything is off. The kids aren’t going to school, and I don’t have work,” he says, the despair visible on his weary face as he sits in the living room of the home he refurbished himself in the small village of Lundby, an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of Copenhagen.

“All this so people will get annoyed enough to leave Denmark.”

For him, returning to Syria means certain death.  

“I can’t go back, I’m wanted,” he tells AFP.

And yet, he has no way to earn a living here.

“As a foreigner staying illegally in Denmark, your rights are very limited,” notes his lawyer Niels-Erik Hansen, who has applied for new residency permits for the family.

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from Damascus, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, saying “the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit”. 

The decision was later widened to include the neighbouring region of Rif Dimashq.

Despite a wave of Danish and international criticism, the Social Democratic government — which has pursued one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies — has refused to budge.


The Alkale family is considering leaving for another European country, even though they risk being sent back to Denmark. 

Alkale’s oldest child was already over the age of 18 when they arrived in Denmark and therefore has her own residency permit, currently under review.

Of the three other children, only the youngest, 10-year-old Rawan, still has the carefree ways of a child.

Majed, 14, says he’s “bummed”, while Said, 17, who was studying to prepare for professional chef school, says he now has no idea what his future holds.

Only a handful of Syrians have so far been placed in detention centres, regularly criticised for poor sanitary conditions.

Asmaa al-Natour and her husband Omar are among the few.

They live in the Sjælsmark camp, a former army barracks surrounded by barbed wire and run by the prisons system since late October.

“This centre should disappear, it’s not good for humans, or even for animals. There are even rats,” says al-Natour.


 The couple, who have two sons aged 21 and 25, arrived in Denmark in 2014.

“My husband and I opened a shop selling Arabic products, it was going well. Then I decided to resume my studies, but now everything has just stopped,” says al-Natour, who “just wants to get (her) life back.” 

“Going back to Syria means going to prison, or even death, since we’re opposed to Bashar al-Assad. He’s a criminal.”

Niels-Erik Hansen, who also represents this couple, says his clients are being “held hostage by the Danish authorities.”

The government is trying “to spread the message that ‘in Denmark, we almost deport to Syria’,” he says.

Amnesty International recently criticised Syrian security forces’ use of violence against dozens of refugees who returned home.

Danish authorities meanwhile insist it’s safe for Syrians to go back.

“If you aren’t personally persecuted … there haven’t been acts of war in Damascus for several years now. And that is why it is possible for some to go back,” the government’s spokesman for migration, Rasmus Stoklund, tells AFP.

Some 35,500 Syrians currently live in Denmark, more than half of whom arrived in 2015, according to official statistics.