The Ministry of the Interior estimates in its biannual overview of violent extremism that extremist organisations, radicalisation and violent extremism are increasingly salient phenomena in Finland.
The most likely security threat associated with the phenomena, however, is not a planned terrorist attack but less serious forms of violent extremism, such as street violence.
The threat of terrorism has nevertheless increased from the level of 2014 – principally as a consequence of the threat posed by individuals or small groups supporting violent jihadist ideologies, according to the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo).
The incidence of hate and violent speech and false news reports has similarly increased on social media. The Ministry of the Interior reminds that such phenomena tend to widen divisions between various population groups, accelerate the polarisation of the society and contribute to the development of a sense of insecurity among the general public.
A particular challenge, it adds, is that hate speech and violent speech are employed to justify ideological violence. The current circumstances, therefore, create a breeding ground for violent radicalisation, extremism and extremist activities.
“The difference between facts and opinions has become clouded,” the report states.
The Ministry of the Interior's latest overview examined developments with ramifications for the security situation in Finland in 2016. The biannual overview has been published since 2013 to provide up-to-date information on violent extremist organisations and other ideological organisations deemed to pose a risk of violence.
Violent far-right extremism
The latest report draws particular attention to the security threat posed by the Nordic Resistance Movement, which previously operated as the Finnish Resistance Movement in Finland.
“All of the national factions of the organisation changed their name to the Nordic Resistance Movement in 2016. The organisation changed its name in an attempt to to create an image of itself as a more united, larger and influential organisation than it is,” the report states.
The Nordic Resistance Movement continues to distribute national-socialist propaganda in the form of leaflets, posters, stickers and other advertisements. It occasionally also holds demonstrations and other public meetings.
The national-socialist organisation currently has active members in several parts of the country and local factions in a total of seven municipalities, according to the overview.
Its activities have also been regularly associated with criminal offences – most commonly assaults – since its establishment, with the most recent incident being a deadly assault at Helsinki Station Square in mid-September. The offender, a long-term member of the national-socialist group, was convicted of aggravated assault to two years' imprisonment by the District Court of Helsinki on 30 December, 2016.
“The victims are usually people representing an opposing political ideology,” the report states. “The members of the organisation have a low threshold to use violence against people vocally expressing views criticising the organisation.”
The most common form of far-right extremism is nevertheless associated with racist skinhead groups operating locally.
The Ministry of the Interior points out that while such groups do not represent a threat to national security, they may cause problems on a local scale and pose a threat to certain individuals and minority groups.
Violent far-left extremism
Far-left radicalism remains a marginal phenomenon in Finland, according to the Ministry of the Interior. The country, it estimates, has no more than a few dozen left-wing anarchists who are prepared to resort to violence to accomplish their objectives.
The anti-nuclear movement, however, has recently incorporated violent elements into its practices, as evidenced by the illegal protests sparked by the commencement of preparations to build a new nuclear power plant in Pyhäjoki, Ostrobothnia, in 2015. The protests continued until April, 2016.
The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) raised its terrorist threat level in mid-2014 and again in late 2015, the Ministry of the Interior points out in its overview.
Individuals and small groups supporting violent jihadist ideologies represent the greatest terror threat in Finland, according to Supo. Such individuals and groups typically operate independently but may have real-life or virtual links to violent networks.
Supo also estimates that activities supporting terrorism will continue to increase in Finland. The support networks currently engage in recruitment activities and seek to promote the radicalisation of recruits.
The Ministry of the Interior reminds that the raised threat level is also attributable to the “considerably high” number of people who have returned to Finland after travelling to and participated in hostilities in conflict-affected areas in Iraq and Syria.
“Almost 80 people have been confirmed to have left, but in reality the number is much higher. The majority of foreign fighters have joined Daesh [the terrorist organisation also known as Isis] to fight or otherwise support its activities. At least 15–18 have died in the hostilities,” the report states.
“A serious threat of violence is associated with those who have participated in hostilities and returned to Finland. [The threat] will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”
The number of people travelling to conflict-ridden areas has recently decreased all across Europe as Daesh has come under military pressure and begun to lose its territories in Iraq and Syria, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
It also reports that certain individuals with connections to terrorism sought asylum in Finland in 2016. Most of them, however, are suspected of having been involved in terrorist activities outside the borders of Finland.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Martti Kainulainen – Lehtikuva