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Swedish report assesses terrorist threat

By Michael Martinez, CNN
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Bombing raises fears in Sweden
  • Report: Extremist threat not widespread
  • Police analysis highlights increasing foreign travel by radicals
  • Cartoon of Mohammed cited among "local events that may fuel radicalism globally"
  • The report was commissioned months before Sweden's first suicide bombing last weekend

(CNN) -- Swedish Security Police have identified almost 200 individuals, mostly young males, as Islamic extremists who advocate violence, but there's no indication their number is growing, a new report said Wednesday.

In a country once considered immune from terrorism, Swedish police say that violence-promoting Islamist radicals do exist in their country and should not be underestimated as potential threats, according to the police study, commissioned months before Saturday's terrorist bombings in central Stockholm.

Sweden experienced its first suicide bombing last weekend, when two explosions killed the bomber and wounded two other people in a district full of Christmas shoppers.

Sweden's radicals mostly focus on "action and propaganda against foreign troops in Muslim countries and against governments they see as corrupt and not representing what the networks consider to be the only true interpretation of Islam," the report found.

Read why Sweden is in the crosshairs

The extremist threat isn't widespread, according to the report, which the government commissioned in February.

"The threat from violence-promoting Islamic extremism in Sweden is currently not a threat to the fundamental structures of society, Sweden's democratic system or central government," the summary said.

But the radicals are capable of damage, police said.

"While violence-promoting Islamist extremist groups do not pose a threat to Swedish society, they are still a threat to individuals and groups, especially in other countries," the report said.

Multiple blasts hit Stockholm
  • Terrorism
  • Sweden

The police analysis highlighted the disturbing trend of increasing foreign travel by the radicals.

"The most serious potential threat to Sweden is the long-term effects of people from Sweden choosing to travel abroad to join violence-promoting Islamic extremist groups," the police said. "There are currently no signs of falling interest in joining foreign groups."

Swedish authorities are investigating involvement in radicalism by Taimour Abdulwahab, the weekend's suicide bomber.

His e-mails before the bombings said that one reason for the attack was Sweden's tolerance of Lars Vilks' newspaper cartoon of the prophet Mohammed as a dog, authorities said. Abdulwahab, 28 -- who had lived in Iraq, Sweden and a southern England town known for its Islamic extremists -- also cited the presence of Swedish troops in Afghanistan.

That cartoon of Mohammed, published in 2007, was also cited in the new report as an example "of local events that may fuel radicalism globally."

Sweden's radical networks are typically made up of males between 15 and 30 years of age, with varying backgrounds, most of whom were born or grew up in Sweden, the report said.

Several women are also involved, sharing the violence-promoting ideology, but they don't engage directly in security-threatening activities, the police said.

At least 80 percent of the radicals are socially connected, mainly through friendships and the Internet, but the social ties don't make them "one coherent network capable of fully coordinating its resources and working towards the same goal," the report said.

Swedish terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp said that before Saturday's bombing, Sweden thought it was "immune" to terror attacks.

"Even (Osama) bin Laden said in early 2003, 2004, that if every country was like Sweden, there would be no terrorism," Ranstorp said.

When asked whether the Swedish Security Police somehow failed to prevent last weekend's bombing, Ranstorp responded, "It is not because of incompetence; it is because of oversight.

"The head of the security service is also coming under fire for 'Why did you miss this?' He also points to the fact that the United Kingdom has a responsibility in this because the person spent the most time in the UK. Why didn't the UK authorities have closer watch on this individual?" Ranstorp said.

The police report outlines ways to fight radicalization.

Authorities emphasized programs encouraging extremists to leave radical groups and recommended crime-prevention initiatives that involve all levels of society: public agencies, civic leaders and the public.

Government initiatives must promote constructive options for people at risk of being radicalized and aim to improve people's overall situation for employment, housing and education, the report said.

Preventive measures should particularly target young people, who are most susceptible to extremism attempts, the police said.

Success will depend on close interaction between schools, social service agencies and community policing, and they must exchange information and draw on each other's expertise, the report said.

Police called upon civic leaders as well as the Swedish Muslim community in preventing and countering extremism, and they encouraged the public to develop a deeper knowledge of Islam.

Though they shouldn't feel a greater responsibility to do so, practicing Muslims and their clerics could be helpful in countering "violence-promoting propagandists active in Sweden and abroad," the report said.

"At the end of the day, preventing and countering radicalization is everyone's responsibility, as citizens and members of society," the report said.

Ranstorp, the terrorism expert who's a professor at the Swedish National Defense College, said anxiety remains high in Sweden, but the recent violence is sure to prompt the country to more openly discuss Islamic extremism.

"The problem with the Swedish debate is that there's always been a fallback position that people are extremely sensitive and extremely concerned about even talking about that. And an event like this sort of throws everything up in the air," Ranstorp said.

"We also have a new political environment with the Sweden Democrats, who are a right-wing anti-immigrant party. They, of course, will not be slow in capitalizing on this situation," he said.