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VIOLENT CLASHES IN MALMO, SWEDEN, AFTER QURAN BURNING

Region of Concern: Sweden

Written By Marisol Negrete; Edited by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Elena Alice Rossetti

Date: September 6, 2023


Map of Sweden[1]


Event: On September 4, Salwan Momika, a Christian Iraqi refugee, burned a copy of the Quran in the Rosengard neighborhood in Malmo, Sweden. An angry crowd responded with violent clashes to prevent the burning.[2] Swedish police have previously denied permits to protest. Sweden’s Court of Appeal overturned that decision.[3] Momika has recently burned the Quran several times to criticize the Islamic religion. He is a former member of an Iraqi Christian militia accused of war crimes. He established ties with Sweden’s far-right nationalist party while in Sweden, according to an internal document at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.[4] Iraq's government expelled the Swedish ambassador, withdrew Iraq's embassy staff from Sweden, and suspended Iraq’s working permit for Ericsson.[5] Sweden’s Prime Minister condemned the acts, calling them legal but inappropriate.[6] In mid-August, Sweden increased its terrorism threat level to its second highest.[7]


Significance: Swedish national security and interests abroad will likely remain at high risk, if the Quran burning continues. It is unlikely Sweden will change its open society and democratic values to counter these acts. Freedom of speech, freedom to demonstrate, and freedom of religion are very likely to remain at the core of Swedish society’s principles. Far-right extremists will likely continue burning Qurans as a political strategy to gain votes from the electorate against immigration and integration. Islamophobia could likely grow from these events, and the risk of alienating the Muslim population in Sweden could increase. Sweden will almost certainly enhance its counterterrorism efforts to protect its homeland security. The Swedish government will likely implement legal tools, including the Public Order Act, allowing police to stop Quran burnings in case of serious security concerns. The Swedish Migration Agency will likely deny residence and asylum permits to persons who might pose a national security threat.


Recommendations: CTG recommends improving counterterrorism efforts on data retention and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities to access information with strategic partners. Swedish authorities should enhance border control measures and restrict asylum and residence permits, based on a criminal background check. The Swedish government should sanction foreign funding of violent extremists and control digital platforms for violent extremist content publication. They should counter violent extremism affiliation by building a local prevention framework through raising societal awareness, creating civic engagement, and implementing a threat assessment program. Sweden should support and monitor NGOs focused on increasing human rights protection and creating peaceful democratic societies, regardless of personal religious beliefs.

 

[2] Clashes erupt in Sweden's third largest city after another Quran burning. At least 3 are detained, Euronews, September 2023, https://www.euronews.com/2023/09/04/clashes-erupt-in-swedens-third-largest-city-after-another-quran-burning-at-least-3-are-det

[3] Why Does Sweden Allow Quran Burnings? It Has No Blasphemy Laws, Voice of America, September 2023, https://www.voanews.com/a/why-does-sweden-allow-quran-burnings-it-has-no-blasphemy-laws-/7190103.html

[4] From militia leader to refugee: The backstory of the man who burned a Koran in Sweden, France24, July 2023, https://observers.france24.com/en/middle-east/20230710-sweden-iraq-brun-koran-militia-leader-refugee

[5] Iraq expels Swedish ambassador over planned Koran burning, Reuters, July 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/swedish-embassy-baghdad-stormed-set-alight-source-witness-2023-07-19/

[6] Sweden raises its terror threat level to high for fear of attacks following recent Quran burnings, Associated Press News, August 2023, https://apnews.com/article/sweden-terror-threat-level-quran-burnings-93df9f95ecae958b64763844d1bc8e4a

[7] Swedish Security Service raises terror threat level, Government Offices of Sweden, August 2023, https://www.government.se/articles/2023/08/swedish-security-service-raises-terror-threat-level/

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