A person who spoke fluent Finnish was at one point seen in Asmara in Eritrea. The man had said that he intended to join a rebel group fighting against the Ethiopian government in the Somali region of Ogaden in Eastern Ethiopia, reports Counselor Simo-Pekka Parviainen from the Embassy of Finland in Ethiopia.
Last summer, Parviainen heard from a reliable source that the man had said that he was on his way to join the separatists fighting against the internationally recognized transitory government of Somalia.
Parviainen considered the information reliable and reported it further to the Finnish Security Police (SUPO).
SUPO commented that it ”neither confirms nor denies such an individual incident”, when Helsingin Sanomat asked the Security Police about the matter.
Parviainen says that he does not know where the Finnish-speaking African fighter is now, or whether the man is a Finnish citizen.
Similar cases have never drawn public attention before, but last November Helsingin Sanomat reported on a Finnish citizen of North African origin who was expelled from Sweden in 2008 because of suspicions of links with a terrorist organisation.
For some years already, SUPO has been closely monitoring the participation of Finnish residents in training camps for fighters for example in Eritrea or the dispatching of fighters to conflict areas, such as Somalia or its neighbouring states.
SUPO has also reported earlier that it has come to their knowledge that certain individual persons have been willing to take part in armed conflicts in crisis areas.
According to Parviainen, the person seen in Eritrea was on his way to participate in battles in the ranks of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which is a separatist rebel group fighting to make the Somali region of Ogaden in Eastern Ethiopia an independent state.
The ONLF is claimed to have trained fighters in Eritrea and to support even al-Shabaab, an Islamist insurgency group, in the ongoing war against the transitory government of Somalia. The ONLF has denied all allegations of its support to al-Shabaab.
The Finnish Security Police is interested in the contacts of Finland’s Somali residents with Somalia and its neighbouring countries, as it can be proved that for example Somali residents in Denmark and Sweden have participated in the operation of Islamist groups fighting against Somalia’s transitory government.
Some Swedes have even died in such battles in Somalia, and the Swedish Security Police (SÄPO) has chosen an open line of communication in the matter.
Lasse Anttila, the head of the anti-terror activities at SUPO, comments on the line chosen by Swedish authorities by saying that such activities obviously occur in Sweden to a considerable extent, which is why it has been seen as appropriate to make the issue public.
When asked whether it is true that even Finnish Somalis have been spotted in the area but the number has not been significant enough to report on their presence, Anttila stays tight-lipped.
When it comes to counterterrorism, SUPO regards Somalia and Ethiopia as one of the most important areas, and this year, the first SUPO agents have been sent to these countries.
The subject sparked some dissent in Parliament last year when SUPO sought funding for their operations.
Parliament has granted the sum of EUR 300,000 for the project for this year. SUPO originally sought greater funding in order to set up a permanent counterterrorism operation that would allow for the stationing of five permanent agents in capitals of countries in North Africa and East Africa.