I Can Tell You about Abo Raad

SWEDEN. This debate article was published in Expressen on November 17. I have translated it as it opens up a window into the closed sphere of Salafism as well as the threats against journalists who do their job. Here goes:

The call from my police contact came in the moment when I, from my editor’s room, noticed the picket buses that just slowed outside Gefle Daily Paper offices. Armed policemen surrounded the building.

Someone had called the Gävle Police, an upset person who talked about a bomb – unless the paper immediately stopped their publications about the Gävle Mosque, al-Rashideen, and its imam Abo Raad.

Abo Raad – born in Iraq & came to Sweden in 1996

It was September 2015, the same day that the paper, in collaboration with the reviewing reporter Magnus Sandelin, published the news that militant Islamists in a secret Facebook group paid tribute to Abo Raad as its religious leader in Sweden. The same Abo Raad, who in 2019 became known as one of those who were deprived of liberty, according to the Special Aliens Control Act, to pose a threat to the security of the state and which has now been released, because an expulsion of him and his son Raad al Duhan is currently deemed impossible to implement. However, the charges remain.

In the fall of 2015, the paper had daily published a series of strong news about radicalization and the Gävlemoskén for a week, but the investigation had been going on for longer than that. Already in January of that year, the first news was written about the imam’s brother Ali Al Ganas, who paid tribute to IS warriors.

The atmosphere in the town was tense, the editors were on their toes. Everyone didn’t like what we were doing, not even internally. Voices both inside and outside the newspaper house argued that we should stop scrutinizing, because it was dangerous, because there were more important stories, that it would favor racist forces. I was called racist and Islamophobic on social media. In our own corps, what we did was something we were pretty much alone about then. It’s easy to forget today.

Down at the reception the police stood, ready to search the house.

How would I do now?

I have saved my crumpled post-it note from that day, the one I clung to desperately. It read: “Staff, Publish, Talk”. In that order. I called for a meeting with the editors to calm down and inform, started our own publication, and then began to answer the calls. TT [the Swedish news agency] called first.

I remember the discomfort, but also the anger I felt. The attempt to stop us from examine!

Freedom of the press became a real issue for me during my years as a publisher in Gävle, not something abstract and harmless as supporting some journalist in a country far away. This was dirty, close and with a high price.

No bomb was found, but the message was still clear.

The campaign to stop us from reporting was intensified, but our publications continued.

In January 2016, I received another call from the police. This time it was about me personally. The Imam’s son Raad al Duhan, also recently released, designated to be a threat to the security of the kingdom, had threatened my life. The message was that he would “remove or kill” me. Later he was also sentenced for this.

Fast forward to 2019 and Aftonbladet’s acting culture director Martin Aagård [supersocialist that calls everybody racist] and columnist Jan Guillou [author and journalist that used to spy for the KGB] compete to trivialize the Gävleimamen and his son and question journalism about them.

“Abo Raad may have been exposed to “rumors” and people who “talk shit,” writes Martin Aagård, who has devoted several apologetic texts to the imam. This is based on his knowledge that the Imam has acquired many “enemies”. The “private teams” behind the examination of Abo Raad are “thought-polices in the true sense of the word”. Thus, the solid digging journalism that the Gefle Daily Paper and Sandelin have done is described.

According to him, the imam is still furious at “the dirty newspaper”.

Aagård even writes: “In October 2015, when the papers investigation has already been going on for a year, Säpo assured the municipal council in Gävle that Abo Raad and his mosque had no links whatsoever to radical Islamism”. But the person who stated this was, in fact, Gävle’s S-labeled [Social Democratic] municipal council Jörgen Edsvik, who eagerly tweeted “no evidence of any links between extremism and Gävle mosque, according to Säpo.”

But on questions about individuals in the mosque, Säpo gave no answers, which Edsvik later admitted. By then, however, the mosque’s then spokesperson had already commented on the matter in Arbetarbladet: “Now Säpo has said it is not so and it feels awesome.”

Later, the paper could reveal that the spokesperson was included in the list of people in Sweden who were apprehended in Operation Snowball, after Säpo had alerted the Swedish Tax Agency that they were suspected of terrorist financing.

Others who were apprehended by the Swedish Tax Agency were Abo Raad and his wife, and two of his brothers: co-pastor Ali Al Ganas, then board member of the mosque, and a 34-year-old Örebroare, former spokesman at the Gävlemoschen, suspected of having commited fraud on Medborgarskolan on millions of kronor [1 million=$97 159].

All this and much more is known by the person who has thoroughly examined [this]. It’s not being the thought-police, it’s journalism.

Jan Guillou states that he doesn’t know whether Abo Raad is guilty of a crime, but he nevertheless knows that it seems “extremely unlikely”. Neither does Guillou know whether Abo Raad “really made the guilty statements that Gefle paper and so-called terrorist experts at the Swedish Defence University pushed on him.”

“What I actually think I know about the imam Abo Raad in Gävle is therefore not so much,” writes Guillou, now surprisingly clear-sighted.

Then it’s perhaps the time to be less confident and more precise as you run to someones defence.

Abo Raad is a Salafist preacher enveloped in a family fabric of crime that spans several Swedish cities. An imam with connections to both serious criminals and ISIS sympathizers, who calls him his religious leader in Sweden.

When Abo Raad and his son were recently released in anticipation of an deportation, SVT Gävleborg reported on the party atmosphere – the “hug party” – at the Gävlemosque where the imam “made an entrance as a rock star”.

SVT was criticized for this relevant reporting, despite the fact that it reflected reality.

I have myself visited the mosque. Met the imam. Being guided by his son.

Raad al Duhan then proudly told me how his father is one of the most important imams. Abo Raad is the one people turns to when they want to solve their problems and disputes without having to interfere with police and other authorities, he said.

This alternative administration of justice was order seen as proof of something good. We who believe in a functioning Swedish justice system could argue the opposite.

By Anna Gullberg

Anna Gullberg is a journalist, media consultant and member of the board of the Publicist Club. In 2016, she was nominated editor-in-chief at Gefle Dagblad for the Grand Journalist Award in the category Voice of the Year.