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Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in Sweden

ICSVE Panel Discussion featuring

Ragnus Ranstorp, Research Director, Centre for Asymmetric
Threat Studies Swedish National Defence College, Stockholm

Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE

February 2nd, 2022

Militant jihadism in Scandinavia is often overlooked, and yet approximately 300 people from Sweden traveled to join ISIS and other militant jihadist groups operating in Iraq and Syria between 2012 and 2017. Research has found that 80 percent of the Swedish travelers (men and women) came from just four Swedish counties, but there is evidence that social media played a meaningful role in many of their radicalization and recruitment processes, indicating that local vulnerabilities and influences may not paint a complete picture of the problem.

Many Swedish foreign fighters have returned to Sweden but have not been prosecuted, often because they traveled to Syria and Iraq prior to 2016, when Sweden criminalized travel for the purpose of becoming a foreign fighter. As a result, many Swedes, including politicians, have been opposed to repatriating those who remain in Syria, mostly detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Likewise white nationalists and supremacists have been problematic with the issues of reciprocal radicalization and violent extremist acts emanating from the Nordic Resistance Movement as well.

What can and should Sweden do to address the Swedes remaining in Syria, including children who were brought or born into ISIS and bear no fault of their own? And in the long term, what can Sweden do to prevent and counter future radicalization to militant jihadism, and how can the lessons learned in this area be applied to other types of violent extremism in Sweden? On February 2, 2022, join Swedish expert on militant jihadism Dr. Magnus Ranstorp and ICSVE director Dr. Anne Speckhard for a discussion of radicalization, recruitment, repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration in the Swedish context.

Magnus Ranstorp has been researching counterterrorism and CVE issues for almost thirty years. Previously he developed the world-renowned Centre for the Study of Terrorism & Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, which was founded in the mid-1990s. Dr Ranstorp was also the first author to seriously map out Lebanese Hizbollah movement and its connection to international terrorism and relationship with Iran and Syria. Before and after 9/11 he was consultant for CNN on terrorism issues. He was also invited to testify in the 9/11 Commission in its First Hearing in 2003. Currently Dr Ranstorp is Strategic Adviser at the Centre for Societal Security. Dr Ranstorp has worked extensively on the issue of Foreign Terrorist Fighters and his most recent publication on Swedish Foreign Fighters is based on a dataset of 267 FTFs out of 300 Swedish FTFs, data obtained from the Swedish Security Service. In 2017 he also co-authored EU RAN Manual on Responding to Returning FTFs and their Families. In 2018 he published an extensive report on salafism and salafi-jihadism in Sweden. Dr Ranstorp also lead the Copenhagen Municipality Expert Group that developed the Anti-radicalization Action Plan in 2015. He also advises Stockholm City on CVE and the Swedish National CVE coordinator.

Dr. Anne Speckhard is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past five years years, she has in-depth psychologically interviewed over 250 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres (and also interviewed their family members as well as ideologues) studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 250 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally. Since 2020 she has also launched the ICSVE Escape Hate Counter Narrative Project interviewing 25 white supremacists and members of hate groups developing counternarratives from their interviews as well. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals, both locally and internationally, on the psychology of terrorism, the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS. Dr. Speckhard has given consultations and police trainings to U.S., German, UK, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others, as well as trainings to elite hostage negotiation teams. She also consults to foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention and interventions and repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times, Voice of America, and many other publications. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today and speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her research has also been published in Global Security: Health, Science and Policy, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Journal of African Security, Journal of Strategic Security, the Journal of Human Security, Bidhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies, Journal for Deradicalization, Perspectives on Terrorism and the International Studies Journal to name a few. Her academic publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website Follow @AnneSpeckhard

This is the twenty-third discussion in this series of panels discussing preventing and countering violent extremism. The previous panels can be found at the following links:

Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID

Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?

Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children?

Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System

Into and Back Out of ISIS: An ISIS Defector Speaks Out

Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand

Talking Terrorist Propaganda with a Pro

Terrorism Prevention, Intervention, and Rehabilitation with Juveniles

Community-Focused Interventions Against Terrorism

Are We Losing a Valuable Feminist Project in the Middle East?

Rescue Me: A Conversation with the Yamout Sisters re Prison Rehabilitation

ICSVE and Parallel Networks Team Up to Fight Violent Extremism

The Journey Back – Turning Away from Extremism and the Road to Hope and Healing

Asking Incels: An Insiders Account of the Involuntary Celibate Community

Understanding Q-Anon

Professor Arie Kruglanski and the Three Pillars of Radicalization

Childhood Abuse, Military Service, and White Supremacism

Interventions for White Supremacists

White Supremacists Speak: ICSVE’s Latest Research Report

ISIS Repatriations in North Macedonia

Repatriating the ISIS Children with Ambassador Galbraith

How Can We Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism in the Military?


1) Swedish Foreign Terrorist Fighters:

2) From the Swedish Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) to the alt-right

Executive summary in English:

Full report in Swedish:

3) From Salafism to Salafi-jihadism in Sweden Executive Summary:

Full report in Swedish:

 4) Danish study on Salafism (Magnus Ranstorp) (in English)


11:02:59 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can watch our previous events here:

11:03:28 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can watch our counter narrative videos here:

11:03:48 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can read our research reports here:

11:04:06 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can read our brief reports here:

11:15:37 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Welcome to everyone!  I think this one will be a wonderful discussion, welcome to comment in chat as you like.

11:19:23 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : We will post the link later today for these

11:23:21 From Dr. Nils Duits to Everyone : Maybe interesting: the European Database of convicted Terrorists (EDT):

11:24:14 From Kawser Ahmed, PhD (Univ of Winnipeg) to Everyone : Could we get the slides of the presenter, by any chance? Thanks

11:25:20 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : We will request them 🙂

11:25:28 From Thomas M. to Everyone : Having done some work on the NRM, how proactive do Nordic states work to de-platform the NRM and other similar groups? Additionally, what is their relationship with groups out of Russia, as many leaders of NRM show activity on VK. 

Recently new unofficial chapters of the NRM have risen in Iceland, the United Kingdom, and Denmark with increasing propaganda and fundraising activity on non-common social media platforms.

11:29:49 From Mark Kustra to Everyone : Is there any evidence of support for these groups coming from outside of the country that might indicate some sponsorship from other nations?

Anne Speckhard (after the event): We need to be very clear about Russia and FSB long standing use of disinformation campaigns and pitting groups against each other inside other countries for Russia’s gain.  Not surprising this is happening with crossover for training in Russia from Sweden and vice versa. Putin is enjoying every minute of it.

11:30:44 From Randy Blazak to Everyone :

11:31:53 From Mark Kustra to Everyone : Thank you Randy.

11:33:41 From Erika T. to Everyone : Does Magnus have a recommendation for literature that describes Sweden’s comprehensive counter-extremism efforts, to include non-police/security related countermeasures such as community outreach or education?

11:36:30 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : Are there still close ties between these groups in Scandinavia and Neo-Nazis from Germany like it was at the times of the itt Ariskt Motstånd and Blood and Honor in the 1990s and 2000’s?

11:36:41 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : *Witt Ariskt Motstånd

11:56:17 From Randy Blazak to Everyone : This is closer to the public health model

11:56:21 From Randy Blazak to Everyone : the Department of Homeland Security. This is the federally funded project we are working on here in Portland, Oregon:

11:56:21 From Mary Ann McGrail (she/her) to Everyone : Is it surprising that 24% of these individuals have higher education?

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Not necessarily, ISIS travelers/foreign fighters were a bit older than Palestinian terrorists for example and many from the West had higher education. Western males in our sample of 263 coded interviews with ISIS prisoners, defectors, and returnees had an average of 13.04 years of education (high school diploma), with a median of 13.00 years and a mode of 14 years (some college). The paper describing the initial sample of 220 ISIS interviews can be found here.

11:56:46 From Randy Blazak to Everyone : The Biden Administration has switched to a public health model for CVE efforts under

11:58:55 From Vladimir Kačanovski to Everyone : Dear Anne, I am under Covid 19 but it is a great pleasure to me to listen this conference. Thank you,Vladimir Kačanovski

11:59:39 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Dear Vladimir I hope you get better fast, great you can attend zoom without getting anyone else sick 🙂

12:01:24 From Vladimir Kačanovski to Everyone : Thank you Anne

12:03:25 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : Not to confuse the German word “Lies” with he English word “Lies!” – it’s a “false friend” and translates as Magnus said into “Read!” as a command

12:04:50 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Good point TM

12:06:48 From Feriha Peracha to Everyone : Most interesting collation of multifaceted data…I will surely ponder as I work in the C/P VE space here in Pakistan. Thank you Magnus!

12:08:23 From Feriha Peracha to Everyone : In group Out group dimension may be the most significant factor.

12:08:33 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : When it comes to risk assessment we have Elaine Pressman author of the VERA2 here with us today!  Maybe she will weigh in…

12:10:08 From Dr. Nils Duits to Everyone : It is the VERA-2R now (2018 version), I’m co-author with Elaine Pressman. Digital training sessions are possible.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): And Dr. Nils agrees to give us a presentation soon in the future on this very issue!!

12:10:17 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : In group outgrow dimensions are definitely always a factor in recruiting.

12:10:32 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : *in group out group dimensions

12:12:01 From Dete Aliah – SeRVE to Everyone : Very interesting findings and I am learning a lot from the presentation of Mr. Ranstorp .. I am amazed by ISIS because they are really put strong effort to recruit their personnels from all over the world, in 5 continents …. I would be happy to read the report of this research, to learn from it and compare it with Indonesia and South East Asia.

12:13:40 From Ben Ramkaj to Everyone : thank you dr Magnus

12:15:12 From Feriha Peracha to Everyone : Indeed Thank you Magnus!

12:16:51 From Michael Haines to Everyone : very very interesting thank you Magnus

12:17:21 From Tore Bjørgo to Everyone : You focus a lot on groups and milieus but not so much on lone actors. The most lethal extreme right terrorists you have had in Sweden were lone actors: The “Laser Man” Ausonius, Peter Mangs and Anton Lundin. Organisations like the Nordic Resistance Movement have been relatively restrained in committing terrorist attacks.

12:17:56 From Zarina Juraeva to Everyone : Many thanks for the great presentation Dr.Magnus!

12:22:35 From Helene Aecherli to Everyone : Dear Magnus, thank you for this amazing presentation. I have two questions: Are there any fights between right wing extremist groups and radical Isalmist groups? And: How big is the influence of non-violent Islamist groups in Sweden right now?

12:26:06 From Michael Haines to Everyone : I have to go I have another meeting that I have to attend. Thank you ICSVE for this presentation and thank you Magnus

12:26:34 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : Thank you for attending.

12:27:19 From Ferdinand von Habsburg to Everyone : Good night and thanks from Maldives, this has been a very rich presentation and discussion.  Looking forward to receiving some of the documents.  All the best!

12:27:42 From felix opondo to Everyone : Thank you Dr Magnus for the great presentation but a  country  like Denmark has a very strong CVE disengangement program. How have the Countries Sweden benefited from this?

12:28:21 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : thank you Felix, the RAN which Magnus helped create and advises shares these kind of information together

12:29:16 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : Sweden actually developed the very first EXIT / disengagenement program in the world. The concept was applied in many other countries as well

12:31:13 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : exactly, Exit Germany which is very successful modeled after Sweden’s EXIT

12:31:40 From Erika T. to Everyone : Thank you. This was wonderful.  I have to jump into another virtual meeting.  I welcome the next event.

12:31:42 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : and of course Tore Bjorgo is the father of all these efforts

12:32:26 From Tore Bjørgo to Everyone : Actually, the Swedish Exit programme was inspired by the Norwegian exit programme I initiated in 1996-97….

12:32:28 From robertlaurentz to Everyone : Excellent presentation. Thank You!

12:32:42 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : exactly, the father of all of them!

12:32:56 From JSmyth to Everyone : Thank you Magnus. Excellent information. Both interesting and disturbing.

12:33:18 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : Oh Tore, I didn’t know. I need to remember that when I talk about it in the future!

12:34:20 From HOST (TM Garret) to Everyone : Thank you for clarifying. I know many people who think the Swede’s were first. Time to correct this.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you to everyone for attending. 

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