A member of the Syrian government troops walks past a banner bearing Isis slogans in in the modern town adjacent to the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Photo: Maher Al Mounes/AFP/Scanpix
According to the report, 125 foreign fighters are known to have left Denmark for Syria or Iraq. Of those, around 62 are believed to now be back in Denmark. At least 27 have died while fighting and around 31 are believed to still be in conflict areas.
The report also shines some light on the demographics of Denmark’s foreign fighters. The majority are Danish citizens who have varying ethnic backgrounds. The Justice Ministry however says that those leaving Denmark to join up with the terror group Isis are “mainly young Sunni Muslims”, including “a number of converts”.
The majority of foreign fighters come from Denmark’s three largest cities of Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense, and the report says that “half of the returnees are part of Islamist circles”. Some 90 percent of the foreign fighters are male and PET estimates that nearly half of those who have left Denmark have some sort of criminal record.
The highly controversial Grimhøj Mosque in Aarhus is also singled out by the report, which says at least 22 foreign fighters have ties to the mosque. The mosque returned to the spotlight in February when hidden camera footage showed an imam calling for adulterers to be stoned. This followed previous controversies including the same imam calling on God to “destroy the Zionist Jews” and mosque leaders declaring support for Isis.
Tore Hamming, a researcher of militant Islam at the European University Institute in Florence, said the returned Danish foreign fighters don’t necessarily make the terror risk greater in Denmark than in other countries.
“There are a lot of people in Denmark who have experience fighting and have come back with a network they could put to use. But to what degree they have come back with the intention [of carrying out an attack] is much harder to say,” he told broadcaster DR.
Although the flow of Danish jihadists to Syria has slowed, Denmark is still thought to be behind only Belgium as the European country that produces the most foreign fighters per capita.
The Danish government recently announced plans to introduce tougher punishments for Danes who join terror groups to fight abroad.
“People who live in this country must be loyal to Denmark. We mustn't accept that militant, extremist groups succeed in recruiting foreign fighters from Denmark,” Justice Minister Søren Pind said in October.