Why case of ‘spy’ sent to Syria is causing headaches for Danish government

Spanish courts say Ahmed Samsam fought for Islamic State but from his prison cell he insists he worked undercover for Denmark's spy agencies -- which have left him high and dry.

Why case of 'spy' sent to Syria is causing headaches for Danish government
A 2020 file photo of Adam, a friend of Ahmed Samsam. Samsam is serving a prison sentence for joining Isis but he insists he worked undercover for Denmark's spy agencies. Photo: Asger Ladefoged/Ritzau Scanpix

The affair is increasingly embarrassing for Denmark’s intelligence services and the government has repeatedly rejected calls for an inquiry.

Samsam says he was working for Denmark’s secret service PET and military intelligence service FE in Syria in 2013 and 2014, spying on foreign jihadist fighters.

Several investigations by Danish media have backed him up, concluding the 34-year-old Dane of Syrian origin never joined IS.

But the two intelligence agencies have refused to say whether he was working for them.

Samsam, who has a long criminal record, travelled to Syria in 2012 of his own accord to fight the regime.

Danish authorities investigated him after his return but did not press any charges.

He was then sent to the war zone on several occasions with money and equipment provided by PET and later FE, according to Danish media outlets DR and Berlingske.

They based their reports on anonymous witnesses and money transfers wired to Samsam.

In 2017, threatened by Copenhagen thugs in a settling of scores unrelated to his trips to Syria, Samsam headed to Spain.

There, he was arrested by Spanish police, who were surprised to find pictures of him on Facebook posing with the IS flag.

Samsam was sentenced the following year to eight years in prison for having joined IS.

“When he was arrested in Spain in 2017 he was 100 percent sure that he was going to be helped by Danish authorities”, his lawyer in Denmark Erbil Kaya told AFP.

But the Danes never intervened.

“It’s very difficult to prove you’ve been an agent. It’s not like he has a payslip or employment contract”, said Kaya.

Samsam has been serving his sentence, since commuted to six years, in Denmark since 2020.

Last year, he filed a lawsuit against Denmark’s intelligence services to force them to acknowledge his role with them.

The case is due to be heard in August.

“It’s very rare to leave an agent to serve a long prison sentence”, Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and research director at the Swedish Defence University, told AFP.

He said the fact that Samsam was arrested in Spain may have complicated his situation.

In a case like this, “an intelligence service would prefer to sweep this under the rug”, Ranstorp said.

“These are things that can’t be exposed in court. Even if the agent is no longer of any use, he shouldn’t attract any attention.”

During last year’s election campaign, Danish politicians across the board said they wanted an official inquiry.

But the new left-right government in power since December has rejected it.

“To protect our open society and democracy, it is essential that nothing that concerns the intelligence services be revealed”, the justice ministry told AFP.

Samsam’s lawyer Kaya condemned the government’s stance as “incomprehensible”.

Samsam “has the impression that the authorities don’t want to help him and are doing everything to hide the truth, he added.

“The truth will be revealed one day and I think this case will be called our ‘Dreyfus affair'”, the lawyer said, referring to the French criminal justice scandal at the turn of the 20th century.

Samsam recently went on a one-week hunger strike from his prison cell to protest “the inhumane conditions of his imprisonment”.

In December, the two intelligence services said they never divulged the identity of informants “both for the sake of the sources themselves and for the services’ operations”.

Being an informant or agent does not grant immunity from conviction if illegal acts have been committed.

“Deny, deny, deny! That’s the golden rule for these services. They never reveal their sources or their methods”, said Ranstorp.

The case was “harmful to their reputation, but they’ll survive it”, he said.

Several Danish opposition parties are still calling for an investigative commission.

And like with any good spy story, a movie is in the works.

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KEY POINTS: What is in Denmark’s 2023 budget proposal?

Denmark’s coalition government presented on Thursday a new budget proposal in which it said it was “stepping on the brakes” on state spending.

KEY POINTS: What is in Denmark’s 2023 budget proposal?

Danish budgets are usually tabled and eventually adopted during the autumn, but last year’s election disrupted the normal timetable.

The proposed budget, given the title “A Responsible Way Forward” (En ansvarlig vej frem) was presented by ministers from the three coalition parties on Thursday: Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen, acting Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen and Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt.

A cautious economic approach to spending is needed given global circumstances including the war in Ukraine, inflation and last year’s energy crisis, Wammen said.

“Even though a lot of things look good when we look at the Danish economy, that doesn’t change where we are. Uncertain times,” he said.

Engel-Schmidt added that some might describe the proposed budget as “boring”, given that it “doesn’t bring a shower of presents”.

Key points from the proposed budget are outlined below. The proposal will go into negotiations with other parties in parliament before being voted through in its final form.

Inflation assistance to lower income groups 

Last year saw the highest inflation rate for 40 years in Denmark, and the effects will still be felt in 2023 even if the inflation percentages themselves are less severe.

Although the government wants to “step on the brakes”, it has still set aside 2.4 billion kroner for financial assistance to people vulnerable to rising prices.

Some 1.1 billion kroner will be spent on 5,000 kroner “cheques” for elderly persons who receive social welfare. People who have high medicine costs and students who receive subsidies because they must provide for others, such as single parents (SU-forsørgertillæg) are also among groups to be assisted with the inflation spending.

READ ALSO: Danish government agrees inflation package for vulnerable families 

‘Acute plan’ for hospitals

An agreement with regional health authorities on an “acute” spending plan to address the most serious challenges faced by the health services has already been agreed, providing 2 billion kroner by the end of 2024.

The agreement was announced by the government along with regional and municipal officials in February.

READ ALSO: What exactly is wrong with the Danish health system?

‘Lower than ever’ reserve fund

A so-called “negotiation reserve” (forhandlingsreserve), a pool of money in the budget that can be allocated at a later date based on agreements between parties, has been significantly cut to 200 million kroner.

A 2023 budget proposal from August last year, which was not adopted due to the election, had the fund at 600 million kroner. The reserve has been as high as 1.5 billion kroner in the past, according to broadcaster DR’s report on Thursday’s proposal.

The previous, single-party Social Democratic government was reported to favour mental health services and the elderly as areas which could benefit from the fund in 2023.

The lower amount is partly due to the shorter timescale of this year’s budget. The 2024 budget will be proposed and passed in late 2023 under the regular timetable.

“There are still things we can prioritise but we are asking you to take responsibility to get Denmark through while inflation is still a major challenge,” Wammen said.

Spending on courts system

Some 32.2 million kroner has been put aside to specifically target a reduction in waiting times for court dates, DR writes. The money is part of a larger amount, 185 million kroner, to be spent on the courts.

Denmark’s courts system has in recent years seen a rising number of criminal cases and lengthy processing times.

Broadband internet to get boost in rural spending

The “broadband fund” or bredbåndspulje will get an additional 100 million kroner to improve coverage in areas that still have patchy connection.

Another 100 million kroner will go into the landsbypulje or “Village Fund”, giving rural municipalities funding for demolition or renovation of deteriorated buildings.


A majority in parliament has already voted in favour of a seven-billion kroner fund in 2023 to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion.

The fund will be spent on Danish military, civilian and commercial assistance to Ukraine.

Part of the spending is funded by Denmark’s international development budget, while over 5 billion comes from spending an increased portion of the national GDP on the 2023 budget.

READ ALSO: Denmark announces seven-billion kroner Ukraine fund