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The Bill Does not Add Up: Norway, Finland Lose Track of Jihadists

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since "fremmedkriger" (or "foreign fighter," a euphemism for "jihadist") was voted Norway's word of the year in 2014. Today, the Nordic country is still at pains to reform its flock of returned jihadists and locate dozens more people whose whereabouts are still unknown.

About 100 Norwegian men and women were estimated to have traveled to Syria and Iraq. According to figures from the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST), around 40 of them appear to have "vanished." Despite the fact that Islamist extremism was claimed to constitute the biggest threat to Norway in a new risk assessment by PST, security officials are convinced that the terrorist risk has abated, national broadcaster NRK reported.

"It's uncertain what happened to them. The situation in recent months has been incalculable, as Daesh has lost many areas. Our biggest fear is that they might, unbeknown to us, return to carry out violent actions," PST senior adviser Martin Berntsen told NRK.

Berntsen suggested that while some of them may be dead, others are likely to have become more experienced and hardened.

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Few of them, however, have returned to Norway in the past six months, as getting out of Syria through the rest of Europe has become increasingly challenging. Lars Gule, a researcher of extremism at Oslo University College, suggested that "disappearing" in Norway might be a difficult task as well.

"Norway is a small society, and it is therefore hard to 'go under the radar.' It's particularly difficult for those who have no valid ID. Getting fake papers and being smuggled all the way to Norway is very expensive," Gule told NRK.

Although the PST admittedly lacks a comprehensive picture of what has happened to its "foreign fighters" with ties to Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the security service believes it was still unlikely for them to try and return to Norway, even if they are still alive.

"We cannot write off the terrorist threat in Norway completely, but for a long time we have seen a steady reduction," PST boss Benedicte Bjørnland was quoted as saying. "They have been there for a long time and they are convinced that extreme Islamism is the way to live. Our assessment has been that Norway is not a desirable country for them to return to. They may want to seek to new conflict areas," Bjørnland said.

READ ALSO: From Hundreds to Thousands: Sweden Crawling With Daesh Sympathizers

In November 2017, the PST lowered the terrorist threat against Norway. During a security conference in Sälen, Sweden, Benedicte Bjørnland suggested that the extreme Islamist environment in Norway was likely to have been weakened, because several of the key figures were probably killed in the war in Syria and Iraq or have been imprisoned in Norway, NRK reported.

In the same November assessment, PST wrote that a possible terrorist act in Norway is likely to be of the same kind as elsewhere in Europe, that is involving vehicles or cold steel in areas with little security measures.

Earlier this month, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) said their data on how many people have left the country for Daesh may be lagging behind. Supo researcher Pekka Hiltunen argued that the number of jihadists from Finland may be up to 20 percent larger than presumed, national broadcaster Yle reported. According to Hiltunen, the jihadists may have ended up in conflict zones without being identified by the bureau. According to previous Supo estimates, 80 people from Finland have traveled to Syria and Iraq to take part in local armed conflicts. That number may in fact be closer to 100.

READ MORE: Finland Named World's Largest Jihad Exporter Per Capita

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