‘It would be better if they had died in battle’: Danish justice minister on returning Syria fighters

Denmark has convicted 13 people for travelling to Syria to take part in armed conflict. Nine have been sentenced to deportation from the country, according to Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen.

'It would be better if they had died in battle': Danish justice minister on returning Syria fighters
Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen. File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Poulsen confirmed information at a parliamentary hearing about Danish citizens who have travelled to Syria to fight in the country’s eight-year conflict, broadcaster DR reports.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen was also present at the hearing, which was requested by the opposition Social Democrats.

The two ministers were asked to clarify how Danish citizens who have participated in conflicts abroad can be punished under the law, and whether Denmark has discussed the issue with international partners.

Poulsen said that the issue was a complex one and that it would require several rounds of international discussion between Denmark and its allies.

The minister stressed that Denmark is unable to deny re-entry into the country to its own citizens, even if they have participated as militants in conflicts on foreign soil.

“The fact is that we cannot prevent Danish citizens from coming to Denmark, and that includes foreign fighters. The threat from returning foreign fighters is serious – that is obvious,” he said.

“It would have been better if they had died in battle, but unfortunately, not all of them did,” the minister added.

Police security agency PET has estimated that 150 people have, since 2012, travelled from Denmark to Iraq or Syria to take part in wars there.

Of those, one third has returned to Denmark, according to the intelligence agency’s assessment.

The accuracy of the PET figures is far from certain, Poulsen said at the parliamentary consultation.

He added that authorities were doing all they can to prosecute foreign fighters who have returned to Denmark.

Those efforts have resulted in convictions of 13 people who have travelled to Syria or attempted to travel to Syria, he said.

“Nine of them have had their Danish citizenships revoked and been expelled [sentenced to deportation, ed.]. Five of those had dual citizenship. The remaining four had Danish citizenship only and could therefore not be deported,” the minister said.

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Six arrested in Denmark raid for suspected Isis links

Six men suspected of being members of the so-called Islamic State (Isis) group or funding it were arrested in an anti-terror raid in Denmark on Tuesday, police said.

Six arrested in Denmark raid for suspected Isis links
File photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The suspects, whose identities were not disclosed, are aged between 27 and 35, police in East Jutland said.

Two of the suspects were arrested in the Danish capital Copenhagen and the four others in Aarhus, Denmark’s second-biggest city.

“Two of the people arrested, a man aged 29 from the region of Aarhus and a 30-year-old man living in Copenhagen, are suspected of penal code violations… for having travelled to Syria in 2014, where they were recruited by the terrorist organisation Islamic State,” police said in a statement.

The 29-year-old is also suspected of having tried to return to Syria in early 2015 to rejoin Isis.

Under his instruction, the four other suspects are accused of having acted as “intermediaries” and having sent money to the organisation.

According to Danish intelligence service PET, at least 160 people have travelled from Denmark to fight in Syria or Iraq. About a third of them have been killed in action, 32 are still there and around half of them have either returned to Denmark or another country.

Jihadism is considered the biggest threat to Denmark’s national security, according to PET.