Cases against Syrian fighters hard to build, police say

Investigators can find no way to make good on Justice Ministry threats to process Danes who travel to fight in Syrian conflict

Police in Copenhagen have dropped their investigation into controversial preacher Abu Ahmed, his Quba mosque in the Amager district and the charitable organisation Hjælp4Syrien. The investigation centred on allegations that Ahmed and his associates encouraged people to travel to Syria to take part in the civil war there and that funds collected under the guise of charitable donations are being used to support terrorism.

“There is no longer an investigation of the Quba Mosque,” Copenhagen police deputy inspector Jens Møller told Berlingske newspaper. “The bottom line is that we carried out a short investigation and found no violation of Danish law.”

Møller said the department is not investigating any other cases relating to the Syrian conflict at the moment.

"But it is still possible to be prosecuted for actions people take abroad,” warned Møller.

Danger still present
The decision to drop the case was something of a setback for the justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemkraterne), and Jakob Scharf, the head of domestic intelligence agency PET, who both have warned that Danes fighting in Syria risk prosecution.

PET considers individuals who leave the country to fight in Syria and return to be serious security threats.

Bødskov insisted that dropping a single investigation did not mean that other Danes who went to Syria to fight would not be prosecuted.

“We take this issue very seriously,” he said. “If you go to Syria and participate in the killing of civilians or train to become a terrorist, you are breaking the law and can be punished.”

Laws hard to enforce
Dorit Borgaard, the lead prosecutor for the Copenhagen police, underscored that going Syria to fight is not illegal in and of itself.

“It is not a criminal offense to go abroad and fight in a war,” she told Berlingske. “It is a criminal offense to go there and join a terrorist organisation, but that is hard to prove since we cannot go to Syria and investigate.”

Aarhus University professor Gorm Toftegaard Nielsen, one of the nation's leading experts in criminal law, also said it was unclear which statute Danes that fight in Syria may be violating.

“Both the justice minister and the head of PET say they want to punish Danes who fight in Syria, But they don’t say how,” Nielsen told Berlingske. “They need to tell us which laws are being violated by people who go to Syria and fight against a dictator that our own government has branded as illegitimate.”