More than 30 Danish jihadists have collected unemployment benefits totaling 379,000 Danish krone (€51,000; $55,000) while fighting with the Islamic State in Syria, according to leaked intelligence documents.
The fraud, which was reported by Television 2 Danmark on May 18, comes less than six months after the Danish newspaper BT revealed that Denmark had paid unemployment benefits to 28 other jihadists while they were waging war in Syria.
The disclosures show that Islamists continue to exploit European social welfare systems to finance their activities both at home and abroad — costing European taxpayers potentially millions of euros each year.
According to Television 2 Danmark, the welfare fraud was discovered after the Danish intelligence agency PET began sharing data about known Danish jihadists with the Ministry of Employment to determine if any of these individuals were receiving unemployment benefits.
As a percentage of the overall population, Denmark is the second-largest European source of foreign fighters in Syria after Belgium. At least 115 Danes have become foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq since Syria's civil war broke out in March 2011, according to a recent report by the Center for Terrorism Analysis, an agency of PET. The report states:
"CTA assesses that approximately half of those who have gone abroad are now back in Denmark, while a quarter of them remain in the conflict zone. CTA assesses that two thirds of these individuals have been in the conflict zone for more than a year. The remaining travelers are located elsewhere abroad. CTA assesses that at least 19 travelers from Denmark have been killed in Syria and Iraq."
The CTA admits that, "the number may be higher" than 115. The comment is a tacit recognition that it does not know exactly how many Danes have become jihadists abroad.
In April, it emerged that the parents of Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein — a Danish-Jordanian jihadist responsible for the terror attacks in Copenhagen in February 2015 in which two people died — have been welfare recipients in Denmark for more than 20 years. Omar's parents received a total of 3.8 million krone between 1994 and 2014, amounting to roughly 500,000 euros or $560,000.
Social welfare fraud of the kind perpetrated in Denmark is being repeated throughout Europe.
In Austria, police arrested 13 jihadists in November 2014 who were allegedly collecting welfare payments to finance their trips to Syria. Among those detained was Mirsad Omerovic, 32, an extremist Islamic preacher who police say raised several hundred thousand euros for the war in Syria. A father of six who lives exclusively off the Austrian welfare state, Omerovic has benefited from additional payments for paternity leave (Väterkarenz).
Austrian police also arrested, in August 2014, nine other jihadists who were attempting to join the jihad in Syria. Their trip was being financed by Austrian taxpayers by way of social welfare payments.
In Belgium, 29 jihadists from the Flemish cities of Antwerp and Vilvoorde were prevented from receiving social welfare benefits from the state. The move came after an investigation found that the individuals had been accessing their Belgian bank accounts by withdrawing money from banks in Turkey, just across the Syrian border.
Per capita, Belgium is the largest European source of jihadist fighters going to the Middle East; up to 400 Belgians have become jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
In Britain, Terri Nicholson, an assistant commander at the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism command unit, told the Telegraph newspaper in November 2014 that taxpayers' money was being claimed fraudulently and used by jihadists in Iraq and Syria. "We are seeing a diverse fraud, including substantial fraud online, abuse of the benefits system, abuse of student loans, in order to fund terrorism," she said.
Nicholson added that women were increasingly being used to smuggle welfare money out of Britain to fund terrorists abroad, because they supposedly arouse less suspicion.
In November 2014, for example, Amal El-Wahabi, a British mother of two, was jailed for 28 months for trying to arrange to smuggle €20,000 to her husband, a jihadist fighting in Syria. She persuaded her friend, Nawal Msaad, to carry the cash in her underwear in return for €1,000. Msaad was stopped at Heathrow Airport. The money she was carrying is thought to have come from social welfare payments.
Anjem Choudary, a British-born radical Islamic cleric who lives off the British welfare state, has repeatedly urged his followers to quit their jobs and claim unemployment benefits so they have more time to plot holy war against non-Muslims.
Choudary believes that Muslims are entitled to welfare payments because they are a form of jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims in countries run by Muslims, as a reminder that non-Muslims are permanently inferior and subservient to Muslims.
In 2010, The Sun reported that Choudary takes home more than £25,000 ($39,000) a year in welfare benefits. Among other handouts, Choudary receives £15,600 a year in housing benefit to keep him in a £320,000 ($495,000) house in Leytonstone, East London. He also receives £1,820 council tax allowance, £5,200 income support and £3,120 child benefits. Because his welfare payments are not taxed, his income is equivalent to a £32,500 ($50,000) salary. By comparison, the average annual earnings of full-time workers in Britain was £26,936 ($41,000) in 2014.
Although analysts are divided over the question of how many followers Choudary actually has, no one disputes the fact that he is far from alone in exploiting the British welfare system.
British taxpayers have footed the bill for the Moroccan-born Najat Mostafa, the second wife of the Egyptian-born Islamic hate preacher Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the United States in October 2012. She has lived in a £1 million, five-bedroom house in one of London's wealthiest neighborhoods for more than 15 years, and has raised the couple's eight children there.
Abu Hamza and his family are believed to have cost British taxpayers more than £338,000 in benefits. He has also received £680,000 in legal assistance for his failed U.S. extradition battle. The cost of keeping him in a British prison since 2004 is estimated at £500,000.
Fellow extremist Islamic preacher Abu Qatada, a Palestinian, has cost British taxpayers an estimated £500,000. He has also won £390,000 in legal aid to avoid deportation to Jordan.
The Islamic preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian, obtained £300,000 benefits before being exiled to Lebanon. The money was provided to raise his six children, including Yasmin Fostok, a single mother who makes a living as a pole-dancer in London nightclubs.
More instances of British welfare abuse can be found here.
In France, the government in March 2015 cut welfare benefits for 290 persons identified as jihadists. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve downplayed the problem. "We shouldn't make a controversy of this subject or allow people to think no action has been taken. We're taking this seriously and will continue to do so," he said.
In Germany, an analysis of the estimated 450 German jihadists fighting in Syria found that more than 20% of them were receiving welfare benefits from the German state. In addition, the 150 jihadists who have returned to Germany are eligible to begin receiving benefits again.
The Interior Minister of Bavaria, Joachim Herrmann, said:
"It should never come to this. German taxpayers' money should never directly or indirectly finance Islamist terrorism. The benefits of such terrorist parasites should be eliminated immediately. Not working and spreading terror at the expense of the German state is not only extremely dangerous, it is also the worst provocation and disgrace!"
Separately, a study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research found that Muslim immigrants were more likely to be unemployed and living off the social welfare state than any other immigrant group in Germany.
According to the study, 55% of the immigrants from Lebanon are unemployed, as are 46% from Iraq, 37.5% from Afghanistan, 37.1% from Iran, 27.1% from Morocco and 21.5% from Turkey. In real terms, immigrants from Turkey (140,000) constitute the largest number of unemployed. The report said the root cause for the high unemployment rates was the lack of educational attainment and job training qualifications.
In the Netherlands, a Dutch jihadist named Khalid Abdurahman appeared in a YouTube video with five severed heads. Originally from Iraq, Abdurahman was living on social welfare benefits in the Netherlands for more than a decade before he joined the Islamic State in Syria. Dutch social services declared him to be unfit for work and taxpayers paid for the medication to treat him for claustrophobia and schizophrenia.
Meanwhile, city councils across the Netherlands are attempting to help rather than to prosecute returning jihadists. In the city of Delft, for example, local politicians are using taxpayer money to "reintegrate" jihadists and to help them "rebuild their lives." Dutch public television explained it this way: "The idea is that the local authorities do not want to alienate the returnees by means of a repressive approach which might lead to their further radicalization."
Separately, several Dutch-Moroccan organizations sent a letter to the Labor Party (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA) in which they threatened to urge Dutch-Moroccans to stop supporting the party if it agreed to a proposal by its Minister of Social Affairs, Lodewijk Asscher, to cut social welfare payments to Moroccans who do not live in the Netherlands. Asscher accused the organizations of using an "improper electoral threat."
In Spain, police arrested five Muslims in the Basque Country who allegedly pocketed the social welfare payments of Redouan Bensbih, a Moroccan immigrant killed on the battlefield in Syria in March. Despite his no longer living in Spain, Bensbih continued receiving monthly payments of €836 euros ($920), which the suspects are accused of having wired to Morocco.
Meanwhile, a network of more than 250 butcher shops, grocery stores and telephone call centers was accused of financing the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The network used the so-called hawala system — defined by Interpol as money transfer without money movement — where money is transferred through an informal and virtually untraceable system.
According to the El País newspaper, "the secret hawala network in Spain is comprised of about 300 hawaladars — the majority of them Pakistanis — who run clandestine offices in Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, Bilbao, Santander, Valencia, Madrid, Logroño, León, Jaén and Almería, and other cities with large Pakistani communities." They manage the savings of over 150,000 Muslims, many of whom are believed to be receiving social welfare payments from the Spanish state, without any legal oversight.
The network allegedly paid the salaries of Spanish jihadists in Syria: They received about $800 if they were single and $1,200 if they were married.
In February 2015, a Pakistani couple residing in the Basque capital of Vitoria was accused of falsifying identity documents to fraudulently obtain social welfare payments for ten fictitious individuals. The man was receiving six different welfare payments and his wife was receiving four. Each welfare payment was between €6,000 ($6,600) and €10,000 ($11,000) per month. Police say that over a period of three years, the couple defrauded the Basque government of more than €395,000 ($453,000).
The Basque Country is known for its liberal social welfare policies; all residents, including illegal immigrants, are eligible to receive welfare payments. In 2012, a massive wave of immigrants from Morocco and Algeria arrived in the Basque Country in order to — in the words of a local politician — "live off of welfare benefits without working."
According to local observers, more than 65% of the immigrants from Morocco and Algeria are receiving benefits. Auditors found that in 2012 alone the Basque Country made €86 million ($95 million) in dubious welfare payments.
In Sweden, the state employment agency, Arbetsformedlingen, terminated a pilot program aimed at helping immigrants find jobs. Information had emerged that Muslim employees at the agency were helping jobseekers find jobs as jihadists for the Islamic State. Operatives from the Islamic State had also allegedly bribed — and in some cases issued death threats against — agency employees in efforts to recruit fighters from Sweden.
Also in Sweden, the government said it wanted to impose a special tax to finance a jobs program for returning jihadists. The project is based on a scheme in the Swedish city of Örebro, where the city is using taxpayer money to help returning jihadists find employment. Town councilor Rasmus Persson said:
"We have discussed how we should work for these guys who have come back, to ensure that they do not return to the battlefield. They should be helped to process the traumatic experiences they have been through."
The project was challenged by a Swedish soldier deployed in Afghanistan, who said that he was likely to get less help when he came back to Sweden than returning jihadists were. Soldier Fredrik Brandberg wrote:
"It would be wonderful if I was met with a comparable program after my homecoming, after which I could feel safe in having a regular job, with monthly income and a social stable situation in the society where I wouldn't need to wonder whether I'm wanted or not."
A spokesperson for the Swedish Armed Forces said that what happens to soldiers upon their return from war was not an issue that fell under its mandate.
Mona Sahlin, Sweden's "national coordinator of the struggle against violent extremists," poses with Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan in July 2010. Sweden's government wants to impose a special tax to finance a jobs program for returning jihadists. Meanwhile, Sweden's armed forces said that what happens to soldiers upon their return from war was not an issue that fell under its mandate. (Image source: Social Democratic Party)
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.